Colin Kaepernick started his career under ideal circumstances. The second-year signal caller was inserted midseason into a stacked San Francisco 49ers roster that was under the instruction of a top-notch coaching staff. Operating in a league that didn't know how to defend him, the initial results were astounding as Kaepernick used his gazelle like strides and rocket arm to lead his team to a Super Bowl appearance. As dominant as Kaepernick looked initially though, it was certain that he would have to continue to improve in all aspects of being a quarterback, as defenses would inevitably make adjustments to stop him. That's just life in the NFL. However, despite all his natural ability, Kaepernick hasn't been able to do this. In turn, his career has nosedived almost as fast as it ascended.
The regression of Kaepernick as a quarterback really comes down to one thing: his inability to throw from the pocket. Former head coach Jim Harbaugh knew it was essential to make plays as a traditional passer in order to maintain long-term success, which is why he tried to adjust Kaepernick's game (which was largely non-traditional). Actually, he tried to do this very early in Kaepernick's career, but the results forced a change in philosophy.
In Week 1 of the 2013 season, Kaepernick torched the Green Bay Packers for 412 yards and three touchdowns. The performance, combined with the small but extremely successful sample from 2012, had the football world gushing over Kaepernick's potential, even prompting one prominent analyst to say he could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Harbaugh seemed to buy into this as well, and centered the offense around Kaepernick the next two weeks. The decision was a disaster.
While the 49ers had been a run-first team under most of Harbaugh's tenure, Weeks 2 and 3 of '13 were dramatically different as San Francisco attempted 55 passes while only handing the ball to a running back 27 times. The results were back-to-back losses, 277 passing yards, four interceptions, and 10 total points. The next week Harbaugh shifted gears and went back to revolving his attack around the ground game and Frank Gore, but the passing woes continued. Overall, in games 2-10, Kaepernick would complete a mere 53.7 percent of his throws, and average a league low 154 yards passing per game. The 49ers went 5-4 during that stretch.
Kaepernick did turn it around towards the end of the year though, suggesting his season long funk may have just been growing pains. He would lead his team to six straight wins to close the campaign, completing 61.8 percent of his throws, and upping is yards to 232. Kaepernick also threw 10 touchdowns to only one interception during that stretch. He would go on to play well in the playoffs as well, before his three turnover meltdown in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
Despite the rough ending to the the season, the arrow still appeared pointed up for Kaepernick heading into 2014, and the 49ers went out and added veteran receiving depth in Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd to go along with Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Things didn't go as planned however, as Kapernick's regression truly began.
In his first 23 regular season starts from '12-'13, Kaepernick averaged 26 attempts and made 30 throws or more just five times overall. He would attempt 30-plus passes eight times in 2014 alone, and the more it seemed he was asked to do, the worse the team got. The pattern with Kaepernick was often the same. He would drop back, hold the ball, break the pocket, and try to make plays on the fly. Sure, there was a big gain here and there, but overall the offense was non-functional. The 49ers would only score 30 offensive touchdowns in 2014, and lose 4 of their last five to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs for the first time under Harbaugh. While some of the collapse could certainly be attributed to Harbaugh's toxic relationship with the front office, Kaepernick's play didn't help matters.
Kaepernick averaged 137 yards passing in those last four defeats, and seemed more lost than ever. It was a trend that would continue into 2015 under Jim Tomsula, as the quarterback would ultimately go 3-10 over his final 13 starts and fail to break 174 yards through the air nine times. The 49ers were the lowest scoring team in the league over that stretch. Were there other issues? Sure, but to say Kaepernick even played average despite them would be giving him too much credit. He was bad, plain and simple.
Not much was different during his first action of 2016, as Kaepernick's play in Week 3 of the preseason looked eerily similar to what we saw the past two years. In addition, recent surgeries have left him thinner, negating the size/speed combination that may have been the one part of his game that was still a threat to defenses. Some thought that new head coach Chip Kelly and his offense would be a natural fit for the maligned signal caller, but that may not be the case since Kaepernick rarely makes quick decisions with the football (something that's essential in Kelly's passing game).
Given what we've seen on the field recently, it shouldn't come a surprise that reports have surfaced signaling the end of Kaepernick's tenure in San Francisco. It's certainly understandable, because if he's not part of their future plans, it makes no sense to keep him around a rebuilding team. Sometimes a fresh start is the best thing for two parties, and that seems to be the case here. The way things have gone (on and off the field), it just might be best for the the 49ers and Kaepernick to part ways.
Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013, and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49