San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is awash in controversy over his decision to protest the national anthem and raise questions about patriotism and racism. But one needs to also look beyond his social prowess and see whether or not he’s even worth an NFL starting job based on his play alone.
Yes, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is dominating headlines one again. Just like the days when the one-time star ran past defenses en route to NFC Championship games and Super Bowl appearances.
But Kaepernick isn’t in the media for what he’s done under center. It’s for his actions in protest against the racial injustice and bigotry that continues to plague the nation.
Let’s try, if we can, to move past all that for a second and focus on why the Niners QB is losing the ground he’s standing — or sitting — on. Putting it simply, Kaepernick is no longer an option to start at quarterback. Not just for the 49ers. For any team.
Back to football. And no, we’re not trivializing Kap’s message. We’re just focusing on another topic of interest.
Colin Kaepernick is no longer a good quarterback. We can base this on stats, expert takes, film and that gut feeling one gets when watching Kap go 2-of-6 for 14 measly yards against the Green Bay Packers not long ago.
And yet there’s still somewhat of a sensation surrounding Kaepernick. To think, there’s an argument suggesting the Minnesota Vikings should trade for Kap so quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s injury won’t hurt so much.
Kap’s Greatness Was What Caused His Downfall
In order to gauge why Kaepernick is no longer NFL starter material, we must understand his fall from grace.
And to do so, let’s go back to what made him so great. Remember that playoff game against the Green Bay Packers? Yeah, the one Fox Sports’ NFL analysts considered Kap’s coming-out party?
Kaepernick was supposed to be the next generation of mobile quarterbacks who would revolutionize the NFL while utilizing the read option and maximizing play-action efforts.
It worked then. Not so much now.
You see, Kaepernick succeeded in a 49ers system which shielded his weaknesses and highlighted his strengths. Not long ago, read-option offensive concepts weren’t the norm for NFL offenses. Paired with a great offensive line, a strong running game and a stout defense, Kap took the league by storm as the Niners utilized this approach.
But defenses around the league made their adjustments. Just ask NFL Films senior editor Greg Cosell (h/t CSN Bay Area):
"That was that stretch of a couple of years where the running quarterback, with the read-option concepts, sort of took the league by storm.And then a lot of defensive coaches in the league, because they’re pretty smart, figured out how to defend that better. So you don’t see it as much now, and I think that hurt Colin Kaepernick, and you couldn’t protect him quite as much."
Under former head coach Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick didn’t have to worry so much about making the oh-so necessary adjustments. He could simply use his sheer physical prowess to great extents.
It worked then. But the league caught up. 2014 didn’t go so well. 2015 was a disaster — a year in which Kaepernick found himself benched for Blaine Gabbert.
Failed Adjustments and Why Kap Isn’t Starter-Worthy
As Cosell noted, the rest of the NFL started to adjust to what read-option schemes were doing.
Just ask any NFL scout or analyst — the No. 1 job of a quarterback is to effectively deliver the ball from the pocket. Everything else is a mere tool and attribute.
Every sport involves adjustment. Factors change each and every game. Players age. Schemes change and new talent is infused into leagues each and every season.
Kaepernick thrived when he was a product of a system that took advantage of a then-lesser-known offensive approach. It maximized Kap’s talents and didn’t ask him to do what he wasn’t good at doing.
When the league caught up to him, Kaepernick didn’t adjust. Nor did he stay one step ahead of the competition.
We can quickly examine other QBs in the league with similar skill sets and backgrounds as Kaepernick — the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton.
As Tom Tolbert of KNBR 680 recently pointed out, those three were all in the “same boat.” But Wilson ended up turning into a quarterback perfectly capable of beating defenses with his arm. And Newton wound up being the league’s MVP last season.
Kaepernick is no where close.
"One thing that was really evident in watching the tape was that Kaepernick did not see things clearly, so he did not advance as a quarterback in the areas that you need to advance; the mental areas of the game. He can still throw the ball really hard, he’s got a power arm, he’s still a fast runner; but I think you have to advance in the mental parts of the game both in an understanding of your own offense, and the understanding of defense.And I think he was a little stunted there up to this point."
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Kaepernick will turn 29 years old this season. Yes, he still has time to turn his career around. And it’s still possible, albeit unlikely, 49ers head coach Chip Kelly provides the “magic elixir” — at some point — to revive Kap’s career.
It just seems all too remote.
Now, the 49ers are faced with an $11.9 million backup quarterback — one who isn’t worthy of being an NFL starter based on talent level alone. And few teams would perceive Kaepernick as a legitimate No. 1 option unless they were in an absolute bind. Even then, Kap is not anywhere close to the level he once was not long ago.
And he may never reach that plateau again.