Colin Kaepernick Is Jim Harbaugh's Guy, but Would He Ever Go Back to Alex Smith?

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterDecember 12, 2012

AP File Photo
AP File PhotoKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We all know that Jim Harbaugh has been extremely happy with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick up to this point. He has publicly defended him after his one loss against the Rams, and he has been his biggest supporter when he has exceeded everyone's expectations.

Through four games as starter, Kaepernick's numbers resemble those of former starter Alex Smith. His completion percentage in four starts is 69.3, he's averaging 216 yards through the air and his touchdown to interception ratio is 3:1. Two total turnovers (one interception, one fumble) in 253 snaps is an impressive number for a first-year starter.

Turning the ball over is the one thing that drives Harbaugh nuts, so it's no surprise that Kaepernick has only attempted more than 25 passes once this season. Limiting mistakes from the quarterback position by leaning on the run game is exactly the same thing he did with Smith. Can you blame him?

San Francisco has the best run-blocking offensive line in the league with arguably the best backfield in the league. Frank Gore just eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his career and tied a franchise record with 50 rushing touchdowns. Not to mention LaMichael James has every fan and media member alike clamoring for more after a productive 15-snap debut in Week 14.

All of Kaepernick's success and the success around him has had me pondering one question as of late. Would Coach Harbaugh ever go back to Alex Smith under any circumstance? It's a valid question based on the experience of No. 11 and the inexperience of No. 7.

Yet, anyone who solely uses the "experience" card as their talking point needs to dig deeper because that's all Smith has going for him right now. Based on physical tools and mechanics, Kaepernick easily takes the cake hands down. His arm strength and deep-ball accuracy alone heading into his fifth career start are already farther along than Smith's are eight years in.

In 129 pass attempts, Kaepernick has attempted 10 passes that have traveled at least 20 yards downfield. Of those 10 attempted passes, six of them have been caught for 217 yards. Which means his completion percentage on downfield throws is 60 percent and he's averaging 36 yards per completion.

Compare that to the numbers of Smith and you will see why his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy are already more advanced. In 217 pass attempts, Smith has attempted 18 passes that have traveled at least 20 yards downfield. Of his 18 attempted passes, only six of them were caughtl. His downfield accuracy is a measly 33 percent, 27 percent lower than Kaepernick's.

If the downfield passing statistics didn't sway you, above are the charts that compare Smith and Kaepernick's medium and short throws as well. Based on Pro Football Focus' grading system, Kaepernick has a plus-11.7 grade in his four starts this season and Smith graded out at a plus-7.1 in nine starts.

Not only has every aspect of the passing game set No. 7 apart, but his rushing ability has also been seen as an attribute that No. 11 couldn't compete with. So far this season Kaep has rushed for 351 yards on 46 attempts—that's 7.6 yards per carry. Moreover, he has added five touchdowns on the ground as well.

In nine games Smith rushed for 134 yards on 29 carries—a full three yards per carry lower than the second-year man out of Nevada. Also, Smith has only managed to score four rushing touchdowns in his entire eight-year career—that's one less than Kaepernick has in 2012. 

I could literally keep going and going until I'm blue in the face, yet I think film study and in-depth statistics have helped me make my case. There's no possible way, based on the numbers and the performance on tape that Harbaugh would ever go back to Smith.

He does nothing better than Kaepernick, plain and simple. The only way I could ever see him back under center is if Kaepernick was injured or if the 49ers were on the right side of a blowout. Much like Matt Flynn made a relief appearance for Russell Wilson this past week when the Seahawks were ahead 45-0. 

Regardless, Smith will be given his walking papers at the end of the season anyway. The 49ers are not going to take a $10 million cap hit to keep him around as a backup. The future of San Francisco is now, and as I've said all along—Harbaugh inherited Smith, he drafted Kaepernick.


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