Colin Kaepernick: how many people, outside of 49ers fanatics who have no lives, actually knew that name before this season? Very few (if you don’t include the aforementioned fanatics). A friend of the family, who had access to 49er training camp, caught a picture with Kaepernick when he was still Alex Smith’s backup, and although that’s a cool picture, it lacked the value it now has. Untested backups, with no starts under their belt, are the ultimate wild card in the NFL today; look at Kaepernick and Kirk Cousins, each of whom proved their full worth, and then some, this past season.
I got my first look at Kaepernick when the Niners stunned me by running the wild cat offense, effectively running the presumptive Jets offense coming into the season. Unlike Tebow, though, who needed multiple snaps to get into an offensive rhythm, Kaepernick could get the yardage in a single snap; if Smith had continued to start, it would have been a positive sign; as it turned out, it was a warm foreshadowing.
Never mind that Kaepernick’s head coach was a former quarterback who knew the position; never mind that he ran the read option just as good as Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton; never mind that his physical looks, heavily tattooed, large frame, are unorthodox in terms of a QB’s appearance; he threw well, he ran well, he read the play well; in short, he quarterbacked very well.
Mike Sando, an ESPN blogger for the NFC West, argues that Kaepernick had the perfect situation, and he had a great scenario to start out from. However, by that logic and definition, Manning and the Broncos should be playing the Patriots for the AFC title, rather than the Ravens. The perfect situation, or rather the perfect setup, is how you start out: it means you have support, and you are ready. It is then up to you to deliver, and how Kaepernick did.
Aaron Rodgers recently stated he thought that the read option would fade out, which, given the timing, reeks of sour grapes. He is right; the read option will eventually evolve, like the wildcat before it; however, a strong part of it will survive with offenses whose quarterbacks can run it. Can you imagine Kaepernick, RGIII, Cam Newton, or hell, even Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers himself, becoming full time pocket passers like Peyton Manning? No. Manning’s style works, but he needs an offensive line to have a perfect series for him to be 100% play after play. Kaepernick and the others listed above can make something out of nothing. The read option will integrate into the west coast offense, I have no doubt of that, but its impact will be that quarterbacks will be required to scramble, and sometimes run for the first down themselves. You know why? Because a class of quarterbacks is showing how you can’t live without that, and ironically enough, Rodgers is one of them.
Kaepernick, though, is a well-rounded quarterback: he can handle traditional passing plays, he can throw the long ball, and most importantly to the 49ers offense, he allows them to increase the odds that the long ball will be caught for a big play. He can run for the first down, and more, and when he gets tackled, he can handle it, although he was smart and learned to slide. Kaepernick isn’t evolving the game; he is evolving within the game, he is learning, sometimes on the fly; he learned the art of the comeback after throwing that pick six against the Packers; he saw what happened to RGIII, and started sliding; and arguably his best trait, he saw what the defenses weren’t doing right, and exploited it.
I believe that Colin Kaepernick has a long, successful career ahead of him. I will not make bold statements, aside from that, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but he has made me a believer, who no longer sits on the fence. I’d rather have him, for one game, than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or any other quarterback right now.