This NFL season reminds me of a few years ago when Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers took the league by storm. There is another emergence this year of young and talented quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Ryan Tannehill and it appears as though their respective teams will be in good hands for many years to come and that is an exciting prospect for their fans.
But what about 49ers fans? Will Colin Kaepernick put himself in the same conversation as these guys or did we already have our guy in Alex Smith? Some will say Kaepernick is the clearly the choice. I am not one of those people, yet anyway. He definitely has the physical ability, no questioning that. What you can question is his decision-making and game management (oh the dreaded game manager title). You might say it is attributed to his inexperience; however, Kaepernick is a second year player that has a year-and-a-half of NFL practice, a full offseason with NFL coaching, sideline exposure and now several games under his belt. He needs to start improving the mental side of his game with every start and that is something we just have not seen thus far. This is not to say he is expected to be perfect this early in his career, but the bar is set higher now than it has ever been due to the tremendous play of young quarterbacks around the league and of course Alex Smith standing on the sideline.
Many experts will say the upside potential of Kaepernick exceeds that of Smith. From a pure athletic standpoint, few can argue with that, but the goal is for the team to win the SuperBowl. So if Smith can get you there, like he has essentially proven he can, how can Kaepernick possibly be better for the team? Maybe he will put up better passing and rushing numbers and be more exciting to watch, but is the team’s upside potential truly better with him than it is with Smith? What about the team’s downside potential with Kaepernick versus Smith? Is the big play potential worth the extra risk? In a close playoff game against a good team when mistakes are crucial, do you want Kaepernick or Smith behind center at this point in their careers?
The 49ers believe they have their long-term quarterback in Kaepernick and I tend to agree, but the window for a team to win a SuperBowl is small and it closes quickly. Whether it is the proverbial hot hand or whatever Harbaugh wants to call it, he has to go with the guy that gives the team the best chance to win now because you don’t know what next season will bring. I am certainly not qualified to question his judgment, but here goes anyway. I feel Smith is better prepared to take this team to the SuperBowl this year and I think he deserves the chance. Just my humble opinion.
Harbaugh has leeway here as he has never fully committed long-term to either quarterback. Kaepernick is already announced as the starter for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins and that will not change barring any unforeseen circumstance leading up to the game. My gut feel is that if Kaepernick regresses and the team loses again, Smith will be the starter against the Patriots the following week and likely for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. The 49ers simply cannot afford to start playing poorly at this time of year with playoff seeding at stake and Seattle right on their heels.
So, as for the 49ers’ future at the quarterback position, we will just have to watch and see. It should be a good show either way.