Colin Kaepernick lead the San Francisco 49ers to a 12-4 record this season. It was a difficult year for the young quarterback. He fought through some injuries to key players that he would otherwise have relied upon this year. Defensive coordinators also had their first full off season to specifically prepare for ways to stop him. All of those things being considered, I will use this article to place a letter grade on the young quarterback.
Defensive coordinators took the off season to examine what it is that Kaepernick likes to do and how to stop it. One thing that they saw is his fondness for throwing the ball down field. They wanted to force Kaepernick to go to his underneath routes. They also disrupted the timing by getting a solid jam on the receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Kaepernick needed to more consistently take what the defense gave him. If the deep ball wasn’t there, he needed to throw the ball to his check downs. There were also many times where he forced the ball downfield despite having receivers open on routes underneath.
Another thing that Kaepernick needs to improve is seeing the field better. There where a few times that guys where wide open but he either tucked the ball and ran of forced it to Anquan Boldin or Michael Crabtree. The second game against the Carolina Panthers was a great example. He had very wide open on a seam route but he forced it to Crabtree. Ironically, this is the exact opposite of what I suggested earlier. I wonder if it was an issue of his pressing to do something that the coaches told him to do. What I mean by that is, I am sure that the coaches told him to be aware of the short range routes that come open due to teams focused on stopping big plays to Vernon Davis. He may have forced the throw underneath because of the emphasis being placed on it.
I would like to see Kaepernick anticipate a bit better as well. The great quarterbacks see things develop before they happen. They throw to spots and help the receivers get open. Kaepernick does this on occasion but he needs to consitently throw to an area instead of relying on his arm strength to make up for his being late to see his target get open.
That being said, Kaepernick is still a very dangerous quarterback. He can make all of the throws. He can even make throws with accuracy on the move. That’s because of the elite arm strength that he has. He has learned how to attack the line of scrimmage put defenders in the tough predicament of choosing between staying in coverage of going after him. This has helped his receivers break open at times when they work the scramble drill.
The other thing to consider while grading Kaepernick are the injuries to his weapons. Anquan Boldin was brought in to help take the pressure off of Crabtree, not to replace him. That trade ended up being one of the best over the off season. Crabtree as we know went down and was out for most of the year. This took away his top target. That is not a good thing for a quarterback still in his developmental stages. We tend to forget that he still is very early in his time as a starter. Vernon Davis was also out for a few games which hurt Kaepernick as well. The two were able to combine or a number of big plays. Davis is one receiver that Kaepernick was able to link up with and hit in stride, allowing him to get more yards after the catch.
It is not possible to have a conversation about Colin Kaepernick and not mention his ability to make plays with his legs. He is one of the most explosive runners when he takes off. His ability to hit top speed in a few strides is uncommon. The way that he explodes through running lanes and hits the outside makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His playoff games against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks showed how he can impact a game. He is the only quarterback to have over 100 yards rushing in two separate playoff games. His big play ability dictates how defenses scheme against them. This is an impact that is not reflected in the boxscore.
I give Kaepernick a passing grade on his 2013 season. I think he had an above average year. Here’s some statistics for all of you that focus on them:
58.4 completion percentage
7.7 yards per attempt
199.8 yards per game
21 touchdowns 8 interceptions
524 yards rushing
4 rushing touchdowns
The 49ers came extremely close to returning to the Super Bowl but fell short in the Red Zone once again. Kaepernick unfairly placed the blame on himself. That’s what you want from your leader though. He is a hard worker and is already back at it, getting ready for next season. This year Kaepernick will be working with Quinton Patton in Miami during the off season. This year I give Kaepernick a B grade but if the 49ers get him a legit Red Zone threat, his grade will likely increase to an A.