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Colin Kaepernick in review: Was too much expected of a second year starter?

Al Sacco
Dec 30, 2013 at 7:53 AM7

When trying to understand what the 49ers passing offense was in the 2013 regular season, the numbers show a team that minimized it's chances through the air and stuck to it's power running game to help move the chains. San Francisco attempted the fewest passes of any team in the NFL with 417. Considering that fact, it's no surprise they also completed the fewest passes (244) and were 30th in the league with 2979 total yards passing. The Niners converted the fewest first downs through the air with 148 but were fifth overall with 115 first downs obtained on the ground. The team ran the ball 505 times over the course of the season which was good for third most behind only the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.

When you consider the situation the franchise was in, these numbers make sense. The 49ers were playing out the year with a quarterback who, despite his early success, had only started 10 games in his career. It was unrealistic to think that this player would not have some growing pains or that he would be the undisputed center of the offense with so little experience. San Francisco is as complete a team as there is in the league. Because of that, they are able to win games both because of and despite of their quarterback. But just how did Colin Kaepernick perform in 2013?

When looking at Kaepernick's season as a whole, it's the tale of a young quarterback going through a learning curve in the NFL. His Week 1 performance against the Green Bay Packers appeared to be an aberration and possibly set a standard he had no way of living up to in the games that followed. The 49ers offensive philosophy does not allow quarterbacks to have many games where they complete 27 passes and throw for more than 400 yards, nor is Kaepernick the type of quarterback who can do that on a consistent basis at this point in his career. For the season, Kaepernick attempted 27 or more passes in just nine of his 16 games. He only completed or more 20 throws in two games all season (the previously mentioned Week 1 and Week 17).

In the contests that followed Green Bay, the 49ers passing offense lost it's way. In games 2-10, Kaepernick would only complete 53.7 percent of his passes and average a league low 154 yards passing a game. He would throw seven of his eight interceptions on the season during this span and only strike gold on eight touchdown passes. Most importantly, the 49ers record in those nine games was a mere 5-4. Whether it was Kaepernick not seeing the whole field, a lack of receiving options, the questionable play calling of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, or a mix of it all, the Niners needed to make adjustments.

Games 11-16 would show the signs that Kaepernick and company were beginning to see the light of day. In 2013's final six matchups, Kaepernick started to look more comfortable and it showed in the numbers and in the win column. Kaepernick's completion percentage in the six games jumped to 61.8 percent and his yards per game to 232. He threw 10 touchdown passes and only one interception as the 49ers finished the season on a 6-0 run. There is no doubt that the return of Michael Crabtree in Week 13 helped open things up for the offense, but Kaepernick was still the one who needed to pull the trigger on it all and he did that.

For the season, the numbers ended up looking impressive and possibly better than the quarterback actually performed for much of the year. Kaepernick threw for 3197 yards and 21 touchdown passes. In addition to that, he ran for 524 yards and four more scores. He only turned the ball over 12 times all seasons (eight interceptions and four fumbles). The most important stat, however, was that his team finished 12-4.

Moving forward, there is definitely room for improvement as there generally is with any inexperienced quarterback. Kaepernick still lacks pocket presence at times and will look to run if his first read is not there instead of going through his progressions. An example of Kaepernick's tendency to lock onto one receiver is the fact that two players (Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis) accounted for 2029 of his 3197 passing yards and 20 of his 21 touchdown passes. Crabtree has alleviated that some, but wide receivers other than Boldin (and later Crabtree) were virtually non existent all season accounting for only 29 catches. There is also the issue of far too many drives stalling, forcing a field goal attempt. That may have more to do with the play selection than Kaepernick himself though.

While the 2013 regular season has finished it's final chapter, the book on Colin Kaepernick is far from complete. There were enough high points to think that the team has found it's franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future, although it may not have come with the prolific statistical outputs some assumed it would. Regardless, the 49ers are right where they want to be. In the playoffs with a chance to make another run at the franchise's sixth title with a starter behind center that looks to be intact for the foreseeable future.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • AZ9er
    Kap makes GM drool with his physical abilities. But one question his decision making. He depends on Crabtree too much. His hero is Farve. A great gun slinger. But Farve threw interceptions at the worse time. Kap's play seems tentative. Maybe coaches were afraid of big hits. He didn't seem to know when to run. True, Kap is still learning. But look at Newton, he has become a better passer. Even Wilson is just as young, but he makes better decisions. Also, I think the OC is inconsistent. 49ers are a power running team, but seem to get away from it. Is Kap slowly morphing into Tony Romo. Great talent. But makes the horrible mistakes. Instead of trying to run faster or throw farther. Kap should study why he's throwing interceptions and where everyone is. Kap tends to stop throwing to guys if they don't catch the ball. He doesn't trust everyone. Brady kept throwing to his young receivers because he was trying to build their and his confidence. Kap on the clock. Show us what you can do. Better draft a prospect just in case. Mettenberger or Murray or ?? Put some pressure on Kap. If Wilson can do it, Kap should be able to.
    Feb 8, 2014 at 2:49 PM
    Response: It was only his second year starting so, while he looked bad at times, I think year 3 is huge in determining what he's going to be long term.
  • The Truth
    No it wasn't too much expected because the undeserved hype he got following the super bowl was ridiculous. And im a niner fan. I told everyone he and rg3 would take a step back thus year because unlike wilson and luck they hadnt developed enough as PASSERS. I love when niner fans say playcalling or offensive line are to blame because wheb alex smith was here we heard none of that. All we heard was how much of a bum he was and what he could or couldn't do. Im not giving kap any excuses whatsoever because ive seen wilson and luck and roethlisberger and brady deal with injuries and inconsistancy on the o-line and recieving core incredibly well and he has gotten AJ McCarron type praise when all he has had is the benefit of one of the best running games and defenses in the league. When the game has been put squarely in kaps hands especially against good teams he hasnt won it period. Against the seahwks panthers and colts he has a grand total of 2 tds with 5 ints and 10 sacks. Thats not good enough so stop making excuses for him whe
    Jan 4, 2014 at 5:37 AM
  • Randy
    You say nothing about the offensive line and how often it leaked oil. On numerous passing plays, Colin had no time at all. He was "running for his life" many times. I would say he has done pretty well under the circumstances.
    Dec 31, 2013 at 9:06 AM
    Response: I think the line has been up and down in pass protection for sure but there are a lot of times where Kaepernick does not do them many favors by freezing in the pocket or bailing out too soon. That said, you're right, there were some games (i.e. Seattle Week 2) where the line did him no favors.
  • Patrick
    Good stuff, also good to see that when we had a tough time running the ball that Kap can pick up what is needed like he did yesterday In Arizona. Shows good promise with tough a game still to come, and hopfully more if we can keep up this win streak. Quest for Six!
    Dec 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM
  • Gandrew
    Kapernick finished the season 7th in the NFL in Total QBR, a 10th of a point behind Aaron Rogers and ahead of Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. QBR isn't the be all and end all of stats but it is a far better statistic than the total yardage and completion percentage that you are using. Kap is doing just fine and is posed to have a tremendous career. I don't understand why people are underrating him.
    Dec 30, 2013 at 9:12 AM
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    You know, I am really not worried about Kap although he can be frustrating at times. Lets not forget that he had a 101 passer rating against one of the top defenses in the league. I'll take that any time. What worries me is the pass rush. Does anyone have any idea as to why the Niners pass rush is so horrible???
    Dec 30, 2013 at 8:51 AM
  • Frank
    Al, I think expectations for Kap were off the charts, largely based on his body of work after he became the starter last year. Give NFL defenses an entire off-season and they'll usually come up with a way to stop/deal with a new offensive wrinkle like the read-option. While he made some brilliant throws at times, his inconsistency has hampered the offense this year. Kap needs to improve his ability to read defenses and make timely audibles. He keeps his OL in their stances too long, IMHO, which can disrupt the flow of drives. We sometimes forget he's got all of 23 starts under his belt...which isn't a lot, really. Makes you wonder how good he can get...only time will tell.
    Dec 30, 2013 at 8:51 AM

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