That prompted me to watch all 10 of Kaepernick's starts using the All-22 film. I charted his passes and tried getting a sense of exactly what kind of quarterback he is and whether or not I believe he will see continued success.
Let's start with a quick background on Kaepernick coming out of college.
Kaepernick was a 6'4 5/8", 233-pound quarterback from Nevada with a 4.53 40 time. He threw for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000 running the Pistol offense at Nevada, a career in which he started all but three games in four years after redshirting in 2006. He chose to play football at Nevada even though he received a partial baseball scholarship from Notre Dame. He was even drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 43rd round of the 2009 MLB draft.
As far as his NFL draft profile was concerned, Kaepernick had excellent marks regarding his production, arm and leadership (doesn't sound so immature, here). Some thought he had an odd throwing motion (though not Tim Tebow-like) and due to his excellent work ethic, scouts felt an NFL coaching staff would be able to fix Kaepernick's unusual motion.
And in no way was Kaepernick viewed as a "gimmick" quarterback the Tim Tebow was.
After 35 players heard their name called in the 2011 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers traded their second-, fourth- and fifth-round selections to the Denver Broncos to move up to No. 36 and select the Nevada quarterback.
Kaepernick made his first appearance against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 of the 2011 season but did not record any stats. In garbage time the following week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he completed three passes and led a touchdown drive (San Francisco won 48-3).
Turn the calendar to 2012, Alex Smith suffered a concussion in Week 10 against the Rams and Kaepernick came in relief in the second quarter.
He then made his first career start on a Monday night against the Chicago Bears, going 16-of-23 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. What I found while watching this game was that Kaepernick showed the athleticism he had at Nevada. His arm looked very good. He has significantly improved his release and is able to drive the ball. The ball just seems to shoot out of his arm like a cannon.
Kaepernick is definitely mobile and does a good job using his legs when he needs to and doesn't constantly scramble. He's able to feel pressure coming, step up into the pocket and still make good throws. This has been key to him leading strong drives for the 49ers. Many times he takes advantage of the opposing defense leaving the middle of the field open and takes off for a big gain.
One reason Kaepernick works in San Francisco's favor? The read-option.
The 49ers have now turned into an excellent running and read-option team, and that is because of Kaepernick. We talk about quarterbacks being able to make great reads while throwing. Well, not only does Kaepernick make good reads in the passing game, checking down when he has to, but his ability to diagnose what a defense is doing is evident in the read-option.
Many times I saw him make the correct decision to either hand the ball off or keep it and it's led to either big runs or even a touchdown, which happened in both the regular season and the playoffs. I've seen defenses stifled by this offense, which can only work in San Francisco's favor.
And it’s a plus for Kaepernick that he has a strong running game to lean on—that, and arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.
As far as his legs are concerned? You can see he is pretty darn quick. Green Bay had absolutely no way of stopping him in their NFC Divisional matchup and Kaepernick pasted them for 181 yards rushing, including touchdown runs of 20 yards and 56 yards.
His arm and his legs were the reasons San Francisco advanced past Green Bay and into the NFC Championship and ultimately into Super Bowl XLVII.
Kaepernick started having more success throwing the deep ball as the weeks went on last year. This was evident in the games against New England and, surprisingly, Seattle.
Granted, the 49ers were in catch-up mode most of the game against Seattle, but this is still one of the best, if not the best, secondaries in the league. The New England secondary was vulnerable and Kaepernick did a nice job attacking them downfield, throwing three touchdowns, though he did also have one interception on a pass on which he underthrew Randy Moss. He also fumbled four times in that game, including a wacky play where he fumbled inside New England's 5-yard line, only to have Frank Gore pick up the loose ball and run it into the end zone.
Overall, his arm strength has shown very well and that alone should keep him with the 49ers for some time. His legs are just an added element to his game, making him and the 49ers harder to stop.
However, the first three months of the 2013 season will be interesting to watch in San Francisco. Kaepernick found a lot of success throwing to Michael Crabtree. Now that Crabtree has a torn Achilles and is out until late part of the season, at the earliest, it will be interesting to see where all those targets go. Anquan Boldin? Vernon Davis? Keep in mind that this is a run-first team, so expect more Gore, Kendall Hunter and maybe some LaMichael James.
It is in this transition to an offense without Crabtree that Kaepernick's leadership skills will shine.
Speaking of leadership skills, let's go back to the remark about him being immature. After his team was wrecked by the Seahawks in Week 16, the 49ers had to bounce back the following week against Arizona because they still had a division to win.
Here's another game that showed his deep ball was getting better, as he went 4-of-7 on throws 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. Not only did Kaepernick lead the 49ers to a win and a division title, but he ended up leading them to a first-round bye after the Green Bay Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings that same day.
Now let's go back to the playoff game against the Packers. On their fourth play from scrimmage, Kaepernick scrambled a bit, threw across his body and the pass was intercepted by Sam Shields who returned it for a pick-six. You could say an "immature quarterback" would've sulked about it and started losing his focus. All Kaepernick did was come right back on the field and lead the 49ers to a touchdown on the very next drive. Very immature.
What about the Super Bowl where he nearly led the 49ers back from 28-6 down? Did he show any immaturity there? I don't think so.
Now, you could argue Kaepernick had a shot to win the game on the last drive. And I'm not talking about the questionable fourth-down pass interference. On second down, Kaepernick scrambled right and pretty much had his eyes set on Crabtree. If he was able to stop and set his feet and look back towards the middle, he may have hit Randy Moss for a touchdown.
So, unfortunately, the Super Bowl did not go how Kaepernick planned. Once again, his "immaturity" shone through. Instead of sulking, Kaepernick was right back on the practice field preparing for the upcoming season.
He feels he can be better and knows his team is close. There are those leadership skills again.
Remember that letter he wrote in fourth grade that NBC showed (h/t NFL.com's Marc Sessler)? The one where he hopes to “go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years”? Clearly, he's been dreaming about this most of his life.
So, to sum up, I see a talented, athletic quarterback with great size for a quarterback, a strong arm, a quick release, who is able to read the field on passes and read ends and linebackers in the option game. His deep ball can be improved, but he has the work ethic to learn and address weaknesses in his game.
Kaepernick's an example of someone who can be coached up. Is he Aaron Rodgers or Robert Griffin III? No, he's not. But he doesn't need to be. He just needs to keep being San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And as long as he does that, he'll be just fine, and the 49ers will continue to amaze people with their read-option and their offense.
Teams will continue to be caught off-guard and Kaepernick will continue to take advantage of that.
And remember, Kaepernick still has a small contract, as his cap hits are only $1.3 million and $1.6 million for the next two seasons (via Spotrac.com). Expect him to get a new deal sometime in 2014.
It seems Kaepernick will be San Francisco's starting quarterback for quite some time.
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