How Colin Kaepernick Can Learn from Cam Newton's NFL Success

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2013

Colin Kaepernick (left) faced off with Cam Newton (right) on November 10.
Colin Kaepernick (left) faced off with Cam Newton (right) on November 10.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Both San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton epitomize the new breed of dual-threat hybrid quarterbacks.

We know the similarities between the two.  Both quarterbacks have strong arms.  Both are consistent threats to run.  Their athletic prowess is stellar.

Newton was taken with the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Newton was taken with the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It is also worth noting that Kaepernick and Newton were both drafted in 2011—the Panthers drafting Newton with the first overall pick in the draft while the 49ers drafted Kaepernick with the 36th overall selection.

There are plenty of comparisons that can be made between the two players.  Even Kaepernick recognizes this, as he stated via David Newton of

Yes, we have similarities.  We’re both big, both fast, both can throw the ball well, have the opportunity to make plays for our offense.

Newton feels the same way about Kaepernick, as he stated via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News:

We got to know each other extremely well.  Obviously with him being such an explosive and dominant player, I've tracked him ever since.  I've got respect for him, and I'm pretty sure he does for me.

Now, both have emerged as the franchise quarterbacks of their respective organizations. 

Yet in 2013, Kaepernick regressed somewhat from the form that 49ers fans saw when he quarterbacked San Francisco into Super Bowl XLVII.  As a result, the 49ers passing offense ranks 31st in the NFL 13 weeks into the season.

The 49ers have gone from an easy favorite to return to the Super Bowl to the cusp of the playoff bubble—currently holding the final wild-card spot in the NFC.

On the other side, Newton and his Panthers are enjoying a fortuitous season that boasts a 9-3 record, setting them back only one game in the NFC South behind the New Orleans Saints.

Carolina has rolled off eight wins in a row, including a 10-9 victory over San Francisco in Week 10.

Given the similarities between both athletes, there need to be some comparisons made.  First, let us take a look at the numbers of both Kaepernick and Newton in 2013 thus far.

Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton 2013 Statistics (Through Week 13)
AttemptsCompletionsPercentageTouchdownsInterceptionsRatingRush Yards
Colin Kaepernick30317557.815788.9376
Cam Newton36622661.7191188.1447
Pro Football Reference

Kaepernick's completion percentage is 57.8 percent this year—down from 62.4 last season.  His passing yards have totaled only 2,312—good for 20th in the NFL.  He has thrown 15 touchdowns against seven interceptions.  Kaepernick's quarterback rating is 88.9, which is down from 98.3 in 2012.

Newton, on the other hand, has a completion percentage of 61.7 percent, which is up from his last year's total of 57.7.  His 2,616 passing yards are good for 17th in the NFL, and he has thrown 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.  Newton's quarterback rating is 88.1—up slightly from his 2012 total of 86.2.

What about both players' rushing prowess?

Kaepernick's 2013 rushing totals to date are 376 yards on 69 attempts for three touchdowns—an average of 5.4 yards per carry.

Newton has rushed a total of 447 yards on 82 attempts for six touchdowns—averaging a similar 5.5 yards per carry.

Former 49ers third-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson described both players' rushing abilities by saying via Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

Look at the way they run the ball.  The first thing you look at is Cam is more of a downhill, almost a power runner.  And Kap is around the edge.  He's got that speed.  He's got that dynamic disconnect ability where he can break out when he's out in the open.

Kaepernick has experienced some setbacks in 2013.
Kaepernick has experienced some setbacks in 2013.Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

By disseminating the numbers, we can paint a pretty good picture comparing the two young quarterbacks.  Both have relatively similar numbers regarding the passing game.  One significant difference, however, is Newton's ability to distribute the ball through the air.

Three Carolina receivers—wideouts Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith, along with tight end Greg Olsen—have topped 600 yards.  Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is close behind after Week 13, with 469 receiving yards.

In comparison, Kaepernick has only been able to rely on two primary receivers—Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis.

Much of that should change for the 49ers now that Kaepernick's favorite target from 2012, Michael Crabtree, has returned from an Achilles injury that sidelined him for most of the 2013 season.

Still, Kaepernick could take a page from Newton's experience in this regard. 

Newton has proven himself capable of reading through his progressions within the pocket.

Cohn describes this further by writing:

Newton has become a progression-reading quarterback.  He'll stand in the pocket and be calm, almost bored, and scan the whole field like he's Tom Brady.  He doesn't seem to be worried about the pass rush—he's completing a league-leading 75 percent of his passes when he's under pressure this season.

Cohn then compares Kaepernick's struggles in this same area:

Kaepernick likes to throw the ball deep downfield to his first or second read and, if neither one is open, Kaepernick takes off and runs.  He has not become the type of quarterback who stands in the pocket and goes through the full progression, looking at three or four receivers.  That's because he doesn't thrive when there's pressure in the pocket—he's completing just 49 percent of his passes under pressure this season, third-worst in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

Kaepernick has, at times, rushed when it was a necessity instead of an opportunity.
Kaepernick has, at times, rushed when it was a necessity instead of an opportunity.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is easy to determine that Kaepernick needs to do a better job of reading through his progressions.  He does have a tendency to lock into one of his two favorite targets—Boldin and Davis. 

Some of the blame can fall on the lack of separation created by the 49ers' other receivers.  The return of Crabtree and Mario Manningham should help in this regard.  Other parts of the blame could fall on San Francisco's offensive play-calling.

The 49ers rarely use check-down options in the passing game.  They also have relied very little on short passing routes such as slant and screen plays.

Kaepernick has been hindered by a lack of receiving targets in 2013.
Kaepernick has been hindered by a lack of receiving targets in 2013.Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Yet Cohn states that Kaepernick tends to run when there are no receiving options available.  If that is solely the case, it is hard to understand why Newton leads Kaepernick in total rushing yards this season, especially considering that both are averaging around 5.5 yards per carry.

As far as the rushing element is concerned, the only explanation is that Newton has done a more consistent job this season of rushing the ball when the opportunity has presented itself.  Look at some of his highlights as an example.

Kaepernick is perfectly capable of this aspect as well.  Perhaps he could be more decisive in this regard.  Fans saw what he is able to do running the ball—look at last season's playoff game versus the Green Bay Packers as an example.

All of the numbers aside, Kaepernick is showing us something that Newton has already learned—the maturation process of a young quarterback can be long and difficult.  The rewards are there for the taking, however.

Turron Davenport of Pro Football Central sums this up by writing:

There were concerns about Kaepernick prior to the NFL draft, but he has closed the gap between himself and Cam Newton, who was regarded as the top quarterback in the 2011 class. 

There are those who rank Kaepernick ahead of Newton at this point.  I personally could not make a selection out of the two.  It does seem that Kaepernick is more of a leader than Newton but that is something that is really up the players in the locker room with them.  If forced to make a selection, you can’t go wrong with either.

Despite being drafted the same year, Newton has started for three full seasons compared to only 19 regular-season starts from Kaepernick. 

Perhaps the most important element that Kaepernick can take away from Newton's 2013 success is knowing that there is a light toward the end of the tunnel, and it is very bright.

As such, all signs point to Kaepernick being able to emerge into that light.


All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.


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