Jan 22, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass during the 2011 NFC Championship game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park. The Giants won 20-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

2013 NFL Offseason: The Colin Kaepernick Over-Hype

December 2, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims (92) celebrates after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated San Francisco 16-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports


Aside from Aaron Hernandez, the most talked about player of the offseason has been Colin Kaepernick, hailed as the savior to the San Francisco 49ers, and labeled the grand-master of the organization’s future. Some of the focus has been out of the young player’s hands, like getting ridiculous backlash for sporting a Miami Dolphins snapback. Some attention has been purely appearance-based, with the “tattooed role model” controversy and then appearing in ESPN’s “Bodies” issue. However, the most undeserved attention has to be about his actual performance on the field last season, and his projected impact into the future. Kaepernick was nominated from an ESPN for “Best Breakthrough Athlete” and was recently listed above Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III on Ron Jaworski’s “QB Countdown,” ranking No. 11 in the NFL. But why?

In defense of Kaepernick, he did put up some impressive numbers in his relatively short stint as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. In a mere 536 offensive snaps, he threw for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions. On top of that, he rushed for 415 yards and 5 touchdowns, totaling over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns in essentially 7.5 games. Even more impressive were his numbers in the playoffs, with 798 yards and 4 touchdowns in a three-game span, leading to an NFC Championship and a spot in the Super Bowl.

However, the assertion that Colin Kaepernick was the “saving grace” of the organization is a bit over-hyped, to say the least. There just so happened to be another quarterback, previously on the roster, that put up better number and more wins in fewer snaps than Kaepernick, against higher quality opponents. In only 501 snaps, Alex Smith tallied 1,737 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was also, at the time, leading the NFL in QB Rating, and finished the season with the highest completion percentage in the NFL (70.2%). More impressively, Smith had led the 49ers to a 6-2 record, with quality wins over the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks; and, prior to his injury against the St. Louis Rams in Week 10, had completed 7 of 8 passes for 72 yards with a touchdown.

The typical argument for Kaepernick over Smith is that the young, more athletic Colin Kaepernick added a new dynamic to the offense that was previously not present on the team, that his ability to “keep the play alive” is what elevated the team to a new level. But, is that really true?

Kaepernick finished the regular season with a 5-2 record, not counting the tie with the St. Louis Rams in Week 10, when he posted a 84.7 QB Rating, did not throw for a touchdown, and was sacked 3 times while playing 64.2% of the snaps at quarterback. In that time, Kaepernick won against the Jay Cutler-less Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints’ 31st-ranked defense, the Arizona Cardinals, and the sub-.500 Miami Dolphins. He did manage a solid win over the New England Patriots, but did so in the wake of the Rob Gronkowski injury. Kaepernick was also primarily responsible for the loss against the St. Louis Rams, essentially handing the Rams eight points with an unnecessary safety and an overthrown toss that resulted in a defensive touchdown. He was also no match for the Seattle Seahawks, who routed the 49ers in a 42-13 beatdown where the young quarterback posted a 27.8 QBR while also leading the team in rushing attempts.

The other argument for Kaep-supporters is his performance in the 2012 playoffs, which ended in the 49ers first Super Bowl appearance since 1995. He single-handedly beat the Packers in the opening round, combining for four total touchdowns in the 45-31 victory. The second-year player also led the comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, finishing the game with a 127.7 QB Rating. Kaepernick even nearly “sealed” the comeback in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens, posting 24 points in the second half of the game…

However, most forget that the 49ers’ defense stone-walled the Falcons in the second half of that game, not allowing a single point once the team returned after halftime. In fact, one of the primary reason for the necessity of a “comeback” was the fact that Kaepernick only completed 1 out of 4 passes on the opening two drives of the game, resulting in a grand total of -8 yards passing; due to only 1 yard passing and -9 yards on a sack. Even in the second half, the offense only managed two drives longer than 40 yards, despite starting three drives outside of the San Francisco 35 yard-line. People also fail to mention that the reason the 49ers were forced to “come back” in the Super Bowl was largely due to the offensive failure of Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in the opening half of the game.  In their six first-half drives, Kaepernick led to team to only six points, with three drives of fewer than 10 total yards, including two punts, an interception, and a lost fumble on offense.

Some suggest the the 49ers wouldn’t have even been in the Super Bowl without Colin Kaepernick manning the helm. However, Alex Smith was equally impressive in the 2011 San Francisco playoff run that ended in the NFC Championship game. In two games, Alex Smith posted 495 yards and 5 passing touchdowns, without a single interception. In fact, the 49ers were likely a muffed punt away from beating the New York Giants, which would have sent them to the Super Bowl. Without Kaepernick playing a single snap, Smith went 19-5 over two seasons, including a trip to the NFC Championship in the first year under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

So, a change at quarterback leads to essentially no change in the result on the field… what does that mean? Could it be that the success is less about quarterback play and more about the rest of the roster? Here is a look at each of the top players at each position on the 2012 San Francisco 49ers depth chart…

Position Name Draft (round) Ranking (within position)
RB Frank Gore 3rd 9th
LT Joe Staley 1st 1st
LG Mike Iupati 1st 5th
C Johnathan Goodwin 5th (NYJ) 10th
RG Alex Boone UDFA* 3rd
RT Anthony Davis 1st 10th
TE Vernon Davis 1st 9th
WR Michael Crabtree 1st 7th

With a Top 10 player at, literally, every position on offense, it is not hard to imagine why a quarterback would be successful… and that doesn’t even take into account the defense and the luxury of playing in a “consecutive year” under a head coach.

Colin Kaepernick played well for the 49ers last season, and was obviously solid enough to guide the team to a NFC West crown and a birth in the Super Bowl. However, the 49ers’ roster was, and is, more than capable of carrying any competent quarterback. In my humble opinion, Kaepernick will be an upgrade over Alex Smith, and was clearly the “right choice” last season. However, he stepped into the lineup of a squad who had 1) pumped out 19 wins in one and a half seasons 2) has three first-rounders on the offensive line,  two first-rounders at the skill positions, and a Top 10 running back and 3) made it within a muffed punt of the Super Bowl in 2011.

The book on Kaepernick is just beginning to be written, having played only 10 complete games as a starter in the NFL. However, he is just that… a quarterback who has played only 10 games! The 2013 season will be a time to showcase the young quarterbacks’ talents, especially within an NFC West that could potentially put three teams in the postseason. He will now be playing with a bulls-eye on his chest, after defensive coordinators have had an entire offseason to study his playing style, and will be taking the field without his favorite target, Michael Crabtree, who will miss a majority of the regular season with injury. Only time will tell if he can live up to the hype of this offseason…


Next Rams Game View full schedule »
Thursday, Aug 2828 Aug7:00at Miami DolphinsBuy Tickets

Tags: San Francisco 49ers St. Louis Rams

  • loverpoint

    I’ll chock up the safety in the St. Louis game up to beginner error, got rid of the ball yet did not throw it far enough, by a couple of yards. The lateral play to Ted Ginn Jr. down near their own goal line was a stupid call by Roman. That was the first and only time they ever ran that play in the total time Ginn was on the team.

    Looking towards the future: There is a good reason why the 49ers hired Eric Mangini. Greg Roman is a timid slow starter when calling the offensive plays in a game.
    He is unsure of the defenses that will be presented him, thus Mangini is on the team to help Roman better prepare for the games.

    The only quesiton is; Will Roman ever have the confidence to start a game with guns blazing?

    2011: Roman concentrated more on Alex Smith game managing and not blowing the game instead of being offensive minded and trying to win the game. Roman relied on the offensive running game, 49er Defense and Special teams to win the game. His offense had poor RED ZONE and 3RD DOWN conversion.

    2012: Roman showed a little more confidence in Smith yet he still brought to each game a very timid repetitive offensive game plan. During the 2012 season the 49er offense remained to predictable. Again they played slow, low scoring offense in the 1st Halves of Games. It did not matter who the QB was, the offense remained the same. W-W-L all through the season and into the playoffs. There were only a few games during the season when the 49ers posted above 33% 3rd Down Conversion, Although they improved a little bit on Red Zone conversion, all of that was flushed down the toilet after they failed in the Super Bowl to convert that last Red Zone Opportunity.

    2013: The 49ers need to be more alert and aggressive in the 1st halves of games. Both the Offense and Defense seemed flat footed and confused at the beginning of games in 2012. The 49ers have the talent and depth at every position, now the coaching staff needs to show that they are up to the task of developing game plans that will utilize each players full potential.

    • Nathan Kearns

      No doubt the mis-toss was a horrible play call on the part of Greg Roman; however, it is still the responsibility of the quarterback to execute the play.

      The hire of Eric Mangini is undoubtedly one of the more unrated moves of the offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. He was on the verge of transforming an always-mediocre Cleveland Browns team into something semi-respectable before getting the pre-mature boot. I have lived in Cleveland for the last 6 years, and the city was dumb-founded by the move…

      I certainly do not disagree with your analysis of the San Francisco 49ers over the past two seasons. In fact, one of the reasons I picked the St. Louis Rams to upset the 49ers in both games last season was the slower pace of the game and relatively predictable play-calling that a defensive master-mind like Jeff Fisher could shut down… or at least slow enough to keep it competitive.

      However, I would take pause in rushing towards a more aggressive, dynamic gameplan. Predictability is flawed to a point. However, when there is superior talent in your favor, sometimes the “here it is, now try and stop it” attitude can be respectable route. Coming out with gun blazing has partially to blame for some of the larger deficits that San Francisco incurred at the end of the season. Failed drives lead to poor field position, which leads to shorts drives for the opposing offense, which leads to less rest for the offense and more rest for the opponents’ defense (i.e. the story of the St. Louis Rams for the past half decade).

      Not that I hope the 49ers succeed in the future, but I wouldn’t deviate tooooo far from the gameplan that has won them 24 of their last 32 regular season matchups, including one Super Bowl appearance, and one should-have-been Super Bowl appearance. Just one man’s opinion…

  • RoleyAnderson

    This article gave me some great insight…I’m an Arizona Cardinals fan, and recently been sticking up for the Cardinals against raging 49ers fans. I keep telling them – Kaep has only played 10 games! All the points in the article make sense, and the read option offense is still young, like the wild cat once was. How do we know what will happen? I believe Kaep’s got the talent. I don’t question that. What I question is how he will handle the spotlight…it’s been seen over and over in this league that Super Stars are born in short periods of time and fall just as quick – how will Kaep hold up? That’s the question. People shouldn’t be so quick to hail Kaepernick as the next HoF quarterback for the 9ers, because he hasn’t proven much yet, considering who’s he’s played with and for how long…

    Great post.

    • Ben Peterson

      I agree with most of what you said except for one thing: the read option is not comparable to the Wildcat. The Wildcat is a formation. There is almost no passing out of the Wildcat. The Read Option is a play, nothing more. It’s a play in formations that you can run most any other play with.

      • Nathan Kearns

        I agree with the premise that the Wildcat and the Read-Option are completely different beasts, in terms of their respective use on the field.

        However, the concept for longevity of the two offensive phenomenons are not dissimilar. I’ll explain…

        One of the reasons that the Wildcat was so effective for that relatively short stint was that defenses, and defensive coordinators, were unaware of how to stop, or even slow, plays coming out of the formation. The same could be said of the “line shifting” on extra points, or the “bunching” on kickoffs. When you first see it on the field, you have no clue how to handle it.

        The Read-Option is somewhat similar, but more-so on an individual player basis. Specifically, defensive ends are taught in the NFL to play the position in a certain way. For the most part on a run play, maintain outside leverage and keep contain on the outside, pushing the play back towards the center. In fact, on nearly all defensive calls, the quarterbacks is the defensive ends “responsibility.” Conversely, the linebacker is typically responsible for the running back.

        By switching responsibilities, masking responsibilities, and teaching defensive ends to “stand up” the offensive tackle, as opposed to dedicating themselves to the inside/outside… defenses will be better suited to take on the Read-Option, much like they adapted to taking on the Wildcat.

        Any while yes, the Read-Option is not a formation, is also not merely a play; but rather, a grouping of plays that can be run out of various formations.

        I do not believe the NFL will adapt as quickly as they did against the Wildcat, but they might not need to…

        The fact of the matter is that the Read-Option essentially relies on the ability of your signal caller to be a running back. Unless these organizations want to devolve the shelf-life of their quarterback to that of the modern-day running back, the violent nature of that style of play-calling, in itself, should slowly push the Read-Option into extinction. It will only take one or two more RG3-type injuries to perceived franchise-quarterbacks to make that point abundantly clear.

        • Ben Peterson

          “the shelf-life…of the modern-day runningback”? that’s a gross hyperbole at the least. Of the 55 RO plays that the Seahawks ran last year, Wilson only kept it on 19, about a third of the time, and on those keepers he ran out of bounds or slid 14 times, with the only hits coming in the middle of a slide, or on his way out of bounds. (Unless we’re talking about Cam Newton, that dude takes more hits than an offensive lineman).

          And the injury to RG3 happened on a designed pass play. When (for some reason) he decided to run towards that great lump in the middle of the Raven’s defense, Haloti Ngata. RG3 then got a bad snap in the Seahawks game to finally take him out.

          Tom Cable, the offensive line coach, and assistant Head Coach of the Seahawks has publicly stated his dislike for using RO dives, when the QB takes it up the middle, what he prefers is to send the HB up the middle and send the QB to the outside if he keeps it at all, providing many more chances to run out of bounds or slide. I can’t speak for the Collin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III, but Russell Wilson will not be diving into the fray in the middle.

          • Nathan Kearns

            Hyperbole in what sense? By my count, Robert Griffin took 120 carries, including 44 on designated pass plays, plus 6 hits while throwing, plus 30 sacks. That puts him around 156 carries, a handful ending in a violent collision while standing helplessly in the pocket. That also doesn’t include hits after the play, hits on non-throwing plays, etc…

            Wilson, who relies significantly less on the read-option in Seattle still took 94 carries and 33 sacks.

            Hell, Kaepernick in 7.5 games took 63 carries with 16 sacks. Some quick math predicts that (assuming consistency, of course) he would have racked up 134 carries and 34 sacks….

            Aside from Russell Wilson, the other read-option quarterbacks are actually taking hits on their carries, some of which are significantly more violent than those on a typical run play by an average running back.

            I understand the support for Russell Wilson! However, I wouldn’t throw him into the category of a read-option quarterback. The offense in Seattle runs through the legs of Marshawn Lynch and is boosted by the elusiveness and decision-making of Russell Wilson in the pass game.

            That is not the case in the handful of “true” read-option offenses: Washington, San Francisco (in the second half), and Carolina.

            I am assuming your point is that the read-option is useful as a weapon within the offensive gameplan? I agree! However, the heavy reliance on the read-option, as we saw in stints last season, won’t stick around in the NFL any longer than the Wildcat.

  • Abel Tovar

    Wow! Why don’t you just take out every word in this article and replace them with “I hate Colin Kaepernick or I’m an Alex Smith Sympathizer.” Just saves everyone some time. You’re CLEARLY being biased towards Alex. You skew the numbers to make your point and you either ignore the other side or you’re just too lazy to check the facts. Let’s take a look…

    If you’re going to bring up the Seattle game and say Alex beat them, then that’s inaccurate. Alex had next to nothing to contribute to that game. Kaep actually had better stats vs the Seahawks than Alex.SMITH=14/23, 140 yards, 1TD,1INT, 35.3QBR, 74.5RTG, 2sacks. KAEP= 19/36, 244yards, 1TD, 1INT, 27QBR, 72RTG and took 1 sack.

    The only difference is that Alex had a full and healthy defense to save his butt and Kaep played without Justin Smith and a hurt Aldon. The secondary got abused because of a nonexistent pass rush. I was at Alex’s game and Seattle was 3 dropped passes away from winning. Each could have been a TD, especially on their first drive.

    If you’re going to bring up the Rams games, don’t forget to mention that even though Kaep gave up 8 points, he led the team right back down the field and scored a TD. On top of that, in BOTH Rams games he led the team to game winning drives and should have won BOTH games if not for David Akers missing BOTH game winning kicks in those games. If he makes those kicks, CK doesn’t lose until the Seattle game and no one even speaks of the Rams this off season because of those two additional losses. Oh, and you forgot to mention that Kaep RAN for a TD vs the Rams in week 10. How convenient of you to leave out.

    I love all the back handed compliments towards Kaep. You mention the defense saved him but forget to mention the 17 points they gave up vs Atlanta in the first half or the 28 they gave to Baltimore before Kaep brought us back. It’s always easy to blame the QB when the defense doesn’t do their jobs.

    If you’re going to talk about playoff runs and compare Alex Smith’s glorious TWO game run as opposed to Kaep then make sure you include all the facts. First, in 8 seasons Alex was 1-1 in the playoffs. Kaep, in TEN games is 2-1. Already he’s accomplished more than Alex. Alex has only won ONE playoff games. That’s it. It was an epic game and an epic win but it’s only ONE game. He didn’t even dominate that game. Kaep DOMINATED the Packers. Oh, and Alex’s run wasn’t all glorious either. Nope. In fact, HE is a major reason they didn’t make it to the superbowl and a major reason the Saints were able to come back. First, against the Saints he was 4-13 on 3rd downs. The fact he couldn’t convert is the reason Brees got the ball back so many times. Against the Giants in the NFC championship, he was only 1-13 on 3rd downs. He he does his job even adequately, then those fumbles don’t matter. In fact, they shouldn’t have mattered because even with the fumble Alex had TWO drives in which he could have led the team to the win. In one drive, all he had to do was get them in FG range. HE JUST COULDN’T DO IT. If FACT, 5 of his 6 last passes were in the DIRT, skipping towards the WRs. That’s with no pressure. Alex was 4-28 on 3rd downs in the playoffs. Pathetic! And even alex blamed himself for that post game vs the Giants.

    The truth is that Harbaugh just thinks Kaep is a better leader, has more heart and will get the most of his abilities because he has a drive to win. Alex is a good leader, has heart but he is RULED by FEAR. He’s scared to make the mistake. Kaep led the NFL in yards per attempt for a reason. BTW, him and Alex BOTH threw exactly 218 attempts so counting SNAPS is pointless.

    I’ll tell you two plays that sum up EXACTLY why Kaep is better and why the 49ers are better off with him. Last year, the Giants were thumped the Niners 26-3 in a game where the strategy was “force Alex to throw” and he rewarded them with 3INTs. At the very end, we were driving in our read zone with the game already out of hand. It was 4th and 15 on our side of the field. What does Alex do? Throws a 5 pass to VD in the middle. Brilliant. Turnover on downs.

    Now vs the Rams, in Kaeps FIRST game and in the 2nd half after a rough start. It’s 3rd and 15, middle of the field. What does Kaep do, he throws a 14 yard bullet to crabtree in a TIGHT window. The Niners convert the 4th and 1 and Kaep runs in a TD after.

    Kaep is not scared of the moment. He’s not scared to take risks because he has complete CONFIDENCE in himself.

    It’s that confidence that makes this entire article bogus. Kaep won’t fail, he can’t fail. He won’t let himself fail because he’s too talented and he realizes that the only way to reach his potential is to work harder than anyone else.

    • Nathan Kearns

      You are sadly, sadly mistaken if you take me for an Alex Smith “sympathizer.” In fact, if there a term to describe the opposite of that spectrum, I would likely fit that mold. My personal opinion of Smith is that he was a glorified “bust,” held up in the 2011 season by the superior talent around him offensively, a Top 3 defensive, and an offensive gameplan predicated on the run that any competent quarterback could have facilitated with average passing ability. Just my opinion…

      However, in terms of your points, they are a little flawed. But, since you took the time to write them all out, I will happily reply to all of them…

      Yes, Colin Kaepernick was better vs. Seattle statistically, but that does not mean a whole lot when the end-result is a loss. Alex Smith managed a much more complete game offensively, completed over 60% of his attempts, and kept his team in the lead from the 3rd quarter until the end of the ball game. One reason that Kaep his “bigger,” not better numbers, might have been the result of him “leading” the offense to a total of six points in the opening SEVEN drives of the game, including three drives of 1 yard or less! When you are down by a significant margin, you tend to pass more, which will lead to inflated number… The number your forgot to include in that rant? Pass Rating: Smith 74.5 and a W, Kaepernick 72.0 and a L.

      Don’t get me started on the 49ers games against the Rams. San Francisco fans tend to have selective memory in both of those games. In the first, yes David Akers missed his first field goal attempt, but that attempt would have never happened had Brandon Gibson taken half a step back and lined up in the appropriate position within the formation. The OT period started with an 80 pass/run by Danny Amendola… the game should have been over right there. Not only that, but after the Akers’ miss, Greg Zuerlein nailed a field goal, but had it retracted on a delay of game penalty. The Rams should have won that first game twice, so there’s that.

      I do apologize for not listing every minor accomplishment that Kaepernick had, but that was not the point I was attempting to make.

      P.S. they aren’t “game winning drives” if they do not win the game…

      In comparing Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs, the intent was not to demonstrate either’s full-career postseason record. The intent was to showcase that with 1) essentially the same roster and 2) the same coaching staff, schemes, etc., the two quarterbacks had nearly the same result with equally impressive production. Both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick had their offensive failures, but the bottom line remains that (aside from Kaepernick’s dominance on the ground against Green Bay) the 49ers, as a team, were almost equally impressive in 2011 as 2012.

      Yes, Alex has only won a single playoff game, but, to be fair, was not given the opportunity to win with the talented roster surrounding Colin Kaepernick. Throw Alex Smith into the lineup in the 2012 playoffs and there is still an above-average chance the 49ers are still in the Super Bowl. You are kidding yourself if you think otherwise…

      Fact: The reason that you show snaps, as opposed to attempts, is to demonstrate the opportunities that each quarterback was given. Kaep was not only on the field for more plays (i.e. snaps), but had more pass plays called (i.e. dropbacks) than Alex Smith, with less offensive production through the air. That was the point! Again, it was not necessarily comparing the two quarterbacks, but demonstrating that the 49er had success offensively before Kaepernick took the reins.

      In your fit of rage, you must have overlooked by last, summing paragraph in the article. I specifically said, ” In my humble opinion, Kaepernick will be an upgrade over Alex Smith, and was clearly the “right choice” last season.”

      No one said he was not confident, that he was scared of the moment, that he was destined to fail, or anything even remotely suggesting that he was not the right choice last season.

      The point of the article was that Colin Kaepernick is still a young, untested quarterback that needs to prove he can be a long-term solution for the 49ers. No one can draw conclusions after only 10 games in the NFL. If that were the case, then Chris Johnson would be the best running back in the NFL and the 2008-version of Matt Cassel would be a Top 10 quarterback in the league right now. ’9ers Nation and the media have hyped this guy to be the next Steve Young. People need to chill, wait, and see what unfolds….