For a team that hitched itself to the dull Alex Smith since taking him first overall in 2005, Kaepernick is a shot in the arm. He's an exciting playmaker, but more importantly, he's a winner.
The second-year quarterback basically redshirted his rookie year before taking over for Smith in Week 11. Since then, all he's done is win seven games, including the NFC Championship Game Sunday.
Despite a first-half defensive meltdown, Kaepernick kept the 49ers afloat in Atlanta. Showing fantastic zip on his passes, the 2011 second-round pick engineered two second-quarter touchdown drives. Although his final stats—233 passing yards, one touchdown and just two carries for 21 yards—don't jump off the page, he avoided turnovers and made big throws when necessary.
San Fran leaned heavily on longtime stalwart Frank Gore, who carried the ball 21 times for 90 yards and a pair of scores, but Kaepernick made Atlanta's secondary look silly at times.
Even though he completed just 16 passes, the former Nevada star averaged a robust 11.1 yards per completion. Most of that success can be attributed to the reborn Vernon Davis, who caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Atlanta simply had no answer for Davis' explosive speed, and few defenders could take down the former sixth-overall pick.
While Kaepernick wasn't asked to be the star, it's clear that the 49ers are a better team with him under center.
His athletic talents far exceed those of Smith, who did manage to turn his career around under Jim Harbaugh last year. However, Kaepernick's rocket arm and fantastic running ability make him an every-down threat and a QB who could threaten for elite status within a few years.
Considered a project because of his extensive experience in the pistol offense at Nevada, Kaepernick has already shown quick development in just his second year in the league. The dual-threat QB is lethal from the zone-read attack, but he's not just an athlete on the field.
The kid can sling it.
Those two marquee matchups saw Kaepernick—who's started just nine games in the NFL—throw for 484 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 209 yards and a pair of scores. Not surprisingly, the 49ers won both games.
Anyone watching Sunday's game saw him rifle in countless passes in tight coverage, something Alex Smith simply cannot do.
Unfortunately San Fran's current crop of wideouts can't take advantage of Kaepernick's big arm, but perhaps 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins can provide a big-play spark next season.
He may not technically be a rookie, but what Kaepernick's doing at this early stage of his career is mighty impressive for such a raw talent.
Sunday's scintillating performance settled it: He's here to stay.
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