San Francisco 49ers: Should We Lower Expectations for Colin Kaepernick?

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) calls a play against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers had a rocky start to their season, but, since then, they’ve won three games in a row. Colin Kaepernick has also had a rocky start to his season so far. He hasn’t been his dominant self recently, so should 49ers fans lower their expectations for Kaepernick? Let’s first look at his season so far.

In the first game of the season against the Packers, Kaepernick dominated and played at an elite level. He showed off his strong, accurate arm and threw for a career-high 412 yards and had three touchdowns. He had an 89.8 QBR for that game. He also started to show off his chemistry with Anquan Boldin. He completed 13 passes to Boldin, and Boldin capped off his incredible 49er debut with 208 yards.

After this memorable performance, Kaepernick hasn’t showed off his dominance in quite the same way. Over the next five games of the 49ers season, he’s had some flashes of brilliance on a well-executed run play or a few long completed passes, but he hasn’t had quite that spark that he had against the Packers or last season in his many breakout performances.

First of all, he hasn’t had as much success running the ball as he had last season. In 13 games last season, Kaepernick ran for 415 yards on 63 attempts and had five touchdowns. In six games so far this season, he’s run for 172 yards on 31 attempts.

Part of the reason why he hasn’t been as successful with the run is because the read-option has been ineffective for the 49ers so far. Ever since the recent emergence of several freakishly athletic quarterbacks, every NFL team has been finding ways to stop it or at least limit the damage that the read-option can create. The Packers prepared for the read-option by forcing Kaepernick to pass, which ultimately ended up hurting them.

The 49ers, as a team, utilized more running plays this past Sunday against the Cardinals, but Kaepernick only ran it four times for 18 yards. As expected, teams now know and have more footage on Kaepernick’s ability to use his legs and run for large gains. In preparing for this, they have temporarily slowed Kaepernick’s running game, but Kaepernick will find a way to rebound and adjust. He has immense drive and determination, and he has great instincts on the field.

In addition to his struggles running the ball, Kaepernick hasn’t put up flashy numbers in terms of his passing. As mentioned before, he has developed some chemistry with Boldin and has also further developed his chemistry with Vernon Davis. However, he’s still having trouble finding open receivers.

Sep 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) celebrates with tight end Vernon Davis (85) after a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kaepernick’s completion percentage this season is 55.9 percent, which is down from 62.4 percent from last season. His QBR this season is 56.04, which is also down from 72.2 from last season. Kaepernick’s current QBR ranks 12th in the NFL, and his QBR last season ranked sixth in the NFL.

Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree’s absence have surely been felt, especially by Kaepernick. Not only did Crabtree have a breakout season last year, but his presence alongside other beasts such as Davis and Boldin would give Kaepernick more of a chance to find one of them open. It would also allow him the room to run it himself and take advantage of a more open field. Once Manningham and Crabtree come back, Kaepernick will certainly put up much more impressive passing numbers.

Kaepernick and the 49ers are only six games into the season, so no serious judgements or statements can be made for the whole season. However, since his numbers aren’t as flashy this year, should we lower expectations for Kaepernick?

On one side, it might make sense to lower expectations for Kaepernick, because he’s had to become more of a game manager. Instead of being a serious threat on offense with his arm and his legs, he’s had to adjust to managing the game more and ensuring the team follows the game plan.

In a way, over these first six games, he’s looked like Alex Smith, who was always called more of a game manager than an elite, authoritative quarterback. Kaepernick has adapted his game to more of that type of role, because he hasn’t had the receivers to support him being more of a passer or to give him more room to run.

However, Kaepernick still only has 13 total starts under his belt, from this season and last season. He hasn’t even started a full NFL season yet, so it wouldn’t be fair to change any expectations or goals for him. Kaepernick still has an immense amount of potential, and fans will have to be patient with him. He’s on a learning curve, but he still has the potential to become an elite quarterback in the NFL.