San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick Must Learn from RG3's Knee Injury

Tom SmeatonContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers gets tackled by defensive end Rob Ninkovich #50 and cornerback Kyle Arrington #24 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has now undergone reconstructive knee surgery and is en route to recovery, a six-to-eight month process that is not expected to cost the star rookie any regular-season action in 2013. 

Despite this fairly optimistic prognosis, there are some critical lessons to take from the injury to Griffin's LCL and ACL, both in Washington and for the rest of the NFL. Read-option packages and increasingly more mobile quarterbacks have taken the NFL by storm this season, including the 49ers' new starter, Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick's unique abilities as both a runner and a passer ultimately allowed him take over Alex Smith's starting job this season, despite Smith's 104.1 passer rating. However, Griffin III's devastating end to the season should raise a few concerns in San Francisco. 

Many will be quick to point out the difference in build between the two quarterbacks, which is definitely worth noting. According to each players' respective profile, Griffin III stands at 6' 2" and 217 pounds, while Kaepernick measures in at 6' 4" and 230 pounds. 

Griffin III's size and long-term durability have raised questions since the draft process, especially as compared to other mobile quarterbacks such as Carolina's Cam Newton, another recent high draft pick. Kaepernick's size appears far better suited to sustain an NFL punishment, but that's hardly a reason to throw caution to the wind.

According to a graphic shown on Wednesday morning's "SportsCenter" (which can be seen at the 1:03 mark in the video), Kaepernick was hit on 17 percent of his dropbacks and rushes this season, good for fourth in the NFL. Only Newton (25 percent), Griffin III (20 percent) and Seattle's Russell Wilson (18 percent) were hit on a higher percentage of qualifying plays. 

Out of that group, Kaepernick is the only QB that did not start the overwhelming majority of his teams's games this season, but it is still an eye-opening number. Especially given the general consensus that Smith will be gone after this season, the prospect of Kaepernick going down with an injury is a dangerous possibility for the 49ers. 

For the sake of Kaepernick's long-term and short-term well-being, San Francisco and coach Jim Harbaugh would be wise to monitor how much they expose their new franchise QB. Many of the adjustments directed to Griffin III could also apply to Kaepernick and other mobile quarterbacks, albeit in a less strict fashion for the time being.

Since earning the starting job, Kaepernick has seen fewer Wildcat-esque plays and designed runs, but what he does with the football is more important than the play-calling. Sliding and getting out of bounds when possible could help limit the amount of hits the quarterback takes, but it's a delicate balance between protecting yourself and playing scared. 

In the end, the 49ers know what they have in Kaepernick, or he wouldn't have kept that starting job when Smith was medically cleared. The coaching staff knows that putting their QB at risk is detrimental to both the player and the team.

Kaepernick is an exciting young player in this league, and his abilities to extend plays and create with his feet are too valuable to completely take away. However, the 49ers must ultimately be smart with how they use them, as the Redskins learned the hard way.