San Francisco 49ers: Can Chip Kelly Resurrect Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s Career?
By Peter Panacy
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick may have just received his last best chance with the San Francisco 49ers when the team announced Chip Kelly as their new head coach entering the 2016 season. Can Kelly turn Kaepernick’s struggling year around?
News of the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to hire Chip Kelly as their next head coach may be music to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ears.
“I think for Colin Kaepernick’s career, it’s one of the best things that could have happened.” – Mike Mayock on Chip Kelly hiring
No, not the music heard through his Beats by Dre headphones conspicuously seen during his press conferences seemingly so long ago.
Kaepernick’s 2015 season was one to forget. He was benched in Week 9 and found himself on season-ending injured reserve with a shoulder injury after posting a career-low passer rating of 78.5. Speculation led many to believe Kaepernick would be out of San Francisco after the season.
But Kelly’s hiring could change all that. And the new 49ers head coach may be the final savior of Kaepernick’s potentially fading career with the Niners.
It’s not hard to envision how the head coach would view a player like Kaepernick in his own unique offensive game plan. Regardless of whatever baggage he brings, Kelly is an offensive innovator and may be the right man to turn what was an inept San Francisco offense around.
Ties between Kelly and Kaepernick are nothing new.
Kelly has had his sights on Kaepernick before and, as NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport notes, may have been attempting to land the quarterback at some point this offseason.
Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports goes into even further detail:
"Kelly’s biggest mission could be to break down the broken Kaepernick, who was benched in November after an ineffective and injury-addled 2015 season on a 49ers team that was decimated by player losses, and build him back up. Is it a guarantee Kaepernick will be back? No, as perhaps Kelly’s work with middling talents with the Eagles is proof that he doesn’t need that kind of player. There’s also the matter of Kaepernick needing to be built up physically, coming off three surgeries (left knee, left shoulder, right thumb).But on the other hand, there were enough rumors that Kaepernick could be released by the 49ers and join the Eagles in 2016 assuming Kelly was going to be back next season — how about that — that we assume this could work with the 49ers, Kelly’s new team, even if Gabbert can’t be eliminated from the equation."
Other NFL analysts are also feeling Kelly’s hiring is the best possible move for Kaepernick. Former 49ers head coach and current NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci felt it was a “good hire” for Kap as did fellow NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock:
On the flip side, Kaepernick has also stated he would like to play under Kelly.
This came from a source close to the situation, who revealed Kap’s feelings to Kyle McLorg of Bay Area Sports Guy.
OK, so Kaepernick and Kelly possibly having mutual interest has been established. But exactly how does this work on the field? There are plenty of conflicting ideas based on facts and assumptions here.
Alex Marvez of Fox Sports broke down some of the specifics:
"In November, it appeared Kaepernick was on his way out of San Francisco this offseason after a steady decline since the 2013 season. He was benched midway through this season in favor of Blaine Gabbert (!!!) before being placed on injured reserve.Kaepernick has his limitations, especially in a pro-style system, but he has the potential to flourish in a zone-read scheme like the one Kelly brings to the Bay Area. Kaepernick’s base salary of $11.9 million is also manageable enough that the 49ers could bring in another mobile QB to compete with Kaepernick for the first-string spot and/or serve as needed insurance because of the exposure for big defensive hits that comes with Kelly’s system.Sorry, let me clarify the above sentence. Kelly wouldn’t be making that signing. That falls to general manager Trent Baalke."
Yes, general manager Trent Baalke will retain control over the roster. Kelly won’t have the same sort of control like he did in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
And that could be a good thing — for both Kelly and Kaepernick.
Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar pointed out how Kaepernick may be a solid fit within Kelly’s system.
Good points. But this shouldn’t be read as Kaepernick merely being a product of faulty coaching and inadequate schemes during his previous seasons under 49ers offensive coordinators Geep Chryst and Greg Roman.
Kaepernick has his flaws and limitations, as noted by Dylan DeSimone of CSN Authentic.
Over the course of his career, Kaepernick’s intermediate completion percentage (between four and six yards) is an unimpressive 57.9 percent. On passing attempts between seven and nine yards, that number jumps only slightly to 58 percent.
Not exactly stellar numbers in a system likely to employ a lot of short, quick reads.
There are likely way more factors in the mix here, so a simple reflection of percentages and numbers isn’t a totally accurate reflection.
And there will remain conflicting notions regarding Kap’s future in San Francisco regardless. Just see what Rapoport and Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus had to say:
Just like the pro careers of Kaepernick and Kelly.
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So can the latter develop some sort of rapport allowing for growth that, ultimately, benefits the 49ers and turns the team back into a respectable contender?
Next: Pros and Cons of Hiring Chip Kelly
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.