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The Myth of Colin Kaepernick’s Inability to Play The Quarterback Position

Anwar Jamison
Sep 2, 2016 at 9:58 AM

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On 3rd and 8, from the 15 yard line, in the first quarter of Thursday Night's San Francisco 49ers preseason game vs. the San Diego Chargers, quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the snap, dropped back, and fired a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Dres Anderson in between three Chargers defenders, who all flailed helplessly at the ball as it struck Anderson in the numbers for a completion to the 1-yard line. If you start listing the NFL quarterbacks who could make that throw, with that velocity, and that accuracy, your list is going to be extremely short. Aaron Rodgers immediately comes to mind. You could count a few others but your list won't exceed five: and Kaepernick is on that list.

To put it in perspective: At 88.4, Kaepernick has the 10th highest career passer rating of all active NFL quarterbacks. This is not ESPN's Total QBR stat, which takes rushing yards into account, but the traditional passer rating statistic that has been used by the NFL since 1973 to determine its passing leader. The formula for calculating the passer rating considers passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions.

The nine quarterbacks with higher career passer ratings than Colin Kaepernick are Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. Of those nine, four are locks for the Hall of Fame: Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Roethlisberger. Of the others, only Schaub has not been considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league for the majority of his career.

Notable quarterbacks with a lower career passer rating than Kaepernick include Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. How can Colin Kaepernick be statistically superior to quarterbacks who are much more revered, when supposedly he's somehow completely lost his ability to play quarterback? Over the past year, we've seen his quarterbacking abilities called into question on a level that rivals former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Suddenly, the narrative has shifted to one that asserts that Colin Kaepernick is a running quarterback, who used his athleticism to have success early in his career, but faltered when asked to throw the ball. This couldn't be further from the truth.

For further comparison, Kordell Stewart's career passer rating was 56.8. Vince Young's career rating was 60.8. That's what a passer rating looks like for a quarterback who survives primarily on athleticism and running the ball. Kaepernick, despite the popular narrative that is being promoted now, is not that type of football player.

Somehow, many people forgot that throws like the one Kaepernick made in Thursday night's game to Anderson were once routine for him. During the Super Bowl loss to the Ravens, after seeing Kaepernick make throw after throw into insanely tight windows, Phil Simms stated, "Kaepernick would be an elite quarterback even if he couldn't run." Back then, this was the accepted perception of Kaepernick: a world-class athlete who could beat you equally with his arm or legs, not some one-trick pony surviving off the zone read play.

This myth that Kaepernick was suddenly unable to play the quarterback position at all really grew legs during the debacle that was the 2015 season. Kaepernick, by any measure, played terrible football: so did the rest of the team. Kaepernick's starting offensive line included Marcus Martin at center, Jordan Devey at right guard, and Eric Pears at right tackle. His offensive coaching staff included a coordinator who hadn't been a coordinator since Jim Harbaugh's final year in the NFL, and a quarterback coach who had been out of football for several years doing radio. That's not exactly a recipe for success.

However, some people say that's just an excuse. Even if you believe he should have played football at a higher level despite the retirements, media circus, personal injuries and everything else that plagued the team, it was still only one season. Rarely, if ever, are quarterbacks written off for having one really bad season. Kaepernick wasn't the only quarterback to have a really bad season last year. Luck's 74.9 passer rating was even lower than Kaepernick's 75.8. However, public opinion has not arrived at the conclusion that Luck can't play quarterback now because of one poor season.

In 2013, in his 10th year in the league, Eli Manning threw 18 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. That's a level of bad that many quarterbacks never rebound from. Kaepernick has never approached a level of play that poor. Also that year, Flacco threw more interceptions than touchdowns as well: recording 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Go down the list of NFL quarterbacks, outside of the few truly elite signal callers, and you will generally find a season where they played well below their usual level of productivity. It happens.

Another popular assertion is that Kaepernick has been regressing for years now and that he's had consecutive bad years. In the 2014 season, Kaepernick passed for 3,369 yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a passer rating of 86.4. It's hard to fathom how anyone who follows NFL football can consider that a bad season. It's certainly not setting the world on fire, but those are efficient, above average numbers. If you do think that season is bad, then you should also believe that Flacco should not even be an NFL quarterback, because those numbers are similar to the numbers that Flacco records every year consistently.

Also consider this: Kaepernick's 2015 season was really, really bad and the worst season of his career without question, so mathematically, he must have played some really good football in those other seasons to still maintain the 10th highest active passer rating in the league, even with that terrible year figured into the calculation.

I don't say any of this to suggest that Kaepernick didn't have a really bad 2015 season. That happened. I also am not denying that there may be concerns about his ability to process information from defenses. However, to that I would offer than unless you're a coach or player consistently in the 49ers meeting rooms watching game tape, you have no way of knowing that. We're not privy to what he's supposed to be seeing vs. what he sees. All we can do is speculate based on the results.

But what we can see for ourselves is what Kaepernick does on the field. One thing is undeniable: when a receiver does get open, and Kaepernick does see him, he consistently throws the ball to that receiver with a velocity and accuracy that very few quarterbacks can. What I don't understand is why so many people suddenly act like that's not the case. For those who would dismiss everything stated above, please explain how a person who "sucks," "been figured out," and everything else used to describe Kaepernick can record an 88.4 career passer rating over four seasons on the field, which again, is 10th highest among active quarterbacks. How can his stat line read the way it does if he is simply a bad quarterback? I haven't seen anyone explain that yet.
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.


  • baalkemustgo
    Ninersush is seeing exactly what I have seen for years. Kap's accuracy is horrible. After seeing him loose twice to my college team (he could not hit his receivers) I could not believe the 49er's drafted him. Just ask Crabtree about Kap's inaccuracy. To be a decent NFL QB you need to be accurate (hit your receivers in stride) and see the whole field to find an open receiver (Joe Montana). After all these years Kap just dosen't have these qualities and never will. He is not an NFL QB period. The dummies - York and Baalke signed Kap for big bucks and now the niners are stuck with him. (no other team wants an inaccurate passer) I have come to realize that as long as the York's are in charge, the 49er's are doomed for failure due to Jed's bad decisions. "You reap what you sow..."
    Sep 6, 2016 at 7:38 PM
  • Nick
    When Kap had a supporting cast and a strong D he still blew the Super Bowl and NFC Championship because he cannot read a D. Any knowledgeable niner fan knows there is no comparison to Montana, Young and even Garcia. We had an opportunity to draft or trade up to draft a potential franchise QB now we are stuck with Kap Gabbert and Ponder the future of this franchise at QB does not look good. It starts with Management and we will not continue to get better until Baalke is gone.
    Sep 6, 2016 at 6:33 AM
  • Ladale
    The article makes more sense than not and most who say differently are more bias toward the QB rather than the circumstances. The absolute truth is your receiving options have sucked on an NFL level for quite sometime. Right now you head into a 2016 season in which your top receiving options actually drafted by the organization is 1. Vance McDonald - a former halfback from Rice turned tightend 2. A former Oklahoma goal line QB turned tightend Blake Bell 3. Seldom used 4th round pick Quinton Patton 4. Rookie 6th round pick Aaron Burbridge. (Shuck, even Crabtree's success in Oakland is predicated on how much others are doubled). All others are cast off from other teams. Your best receiving option the last few seasons was born in 1980, Boldin came in and ran that thing with little or no help. YOU HAVE NO PLAYMAKERS!! Wake up!! You have no Gronk, no Beckham, no Julio, and so on and on and on... "No other team looks at your offensive skill position players and says we can win if we had that guy or boy our QB would really shine if we had that cast of playmakers". You got guys who where on the cutting block on other teams being traded to your team and actually making the roster.
    Sep 6, 2016 at 5:21 AM
  • Guts
    Time will tell..... But my calculations tell me he sucks. The only way he turns it around is studying opponents defensive schemes. When you put more time in your hair dew than the defense you suck big ones.
    Sep 5, 2016 at 8:24 PM
  • Steve9er
    Myth??? Any "fan" who believes that is delusional. He can't play QB. I think the results speak for itself. The guy has dreadful accuracy and can't make multiple reads to save his life. He is an overpaid backup QB. Sorry 9er fans, he's done.
    Sep 5, 2016 at 12:43 PM
  • niner
    darn right!!!!!!! heard that more teams and gas are after him than broken down Peyton Manning. In fact all his ex was are begging their teams to get him. Heard that Denver said he was the future and offered 8 first rd draft choices but the 49ers turned him down. He's the better than montana young peyton brady aikman all combined!!!!!
    Sep 5, 2016 at 8:04 AM
  • Rob
    Its insane how people love to crap on Kaep but never take a honest look at the things around him that happened that lead to the decline. Whether its the lack of productivity of the running game, the questionable playcalling and later idiotic coaching, the MAJOR loss of talent and depleted oline, and on and on. Like if Kaep just last year was the ONLY problem on the Niners, then why didnt Blaine last year come out on fire and win 7 of the last 8 games and put us in position to fight for a wild card spot? Luck played the SAME amount of games, had the SAME record at 2-5 last year and how a lower QBR and completion percentage then Kaep but its crazy how no one is saying "Luck dont deserve to be on a team, he's regressed, he needs to be benched/cut" These guys are young QBs that will have ups and down like every other QB in the league, Brady, Manning, Breas, Ben Roth. Why does everyone go into panic mode so quick?
    Sep 3, 2016 at 6:23 PM
  • lonnie
    for a Qb that has been in the league for 5 years and declining but making 11.9 million not worth it at all. He is poison to S.F and if they keep him it will be the end of Chip Kelley. His pocket skills suck and he looks at one receiver and yes he bounces passes to his receivers. It was San Diego's second or third team and that is not saying much. We need a leader and a pocket passer.
    Sep 3, 2016 at 12:20 PM
  • Josh
    Kap remains a qb who can do something breath taking one play and something horribly stupid the next. His highs are HOF worthy his lows make him in competition with blaine gabbert for the starter...
    Sep 3, 2016 at 8:40 AM
  • Tod
    The problem with Kap is that every year he got worse. Defenses adjusted to his playstyle, and he has not been able to adjust his game to take what the new defenses are giving him. Kap 2016 is more likely to be like his last year in the league than his first.
    Sep 3, 2016 at 7:09 AM
  • anthony
    Much of the defamation and diminishment of this fine athlete has to do with his home playing town. The city of san francisco won basketball championships and baseball world series throughout the past few years. The heroes were buster posey and madison bumgartner and steph curry amongst the very bourgeois elitist high acheiver population of san francisco. San Francisco is not progressive or liberal - that is a complete illusion. It is a city of wealth and capitalism and the people love the bourgeois well to do athletes like buster and steph. Kaepernick is real, he is central valley, a place that the snobbish bourgeois of SF like to scoff at. This city treated Kaepernick like a less desirable outsider, not part of the city's conformist elite fraternal like superiority. They bullied him, for it is a bullying city. Its a city that consistently looks down on what they perceive as the uneducated, the hee haws, the religious, the laborers, etc. The myth that Kaepernick was a reject came in large part because of the city he played for. A city that treated him like garbage; he was a goat here, and could have been a hero somewhere else.
    Sep 3, 2016 at 4:23 AM
  • You Must Be Kidding
    The guy, at his peak, had a 80.9 QB rating from the pocket. He was a gimmick QB in a gimmick offense that teams didn't have a game plan for. Well, they figured one out. They keep the clown in the pocket. Since mid-2014, his QB rating has been 77. Under Harbaugh. Under Tomsula. It'd be that way under Jesus if he was the coach. As for San Diego, he's lucky he didn't have a pair of picks. Never mind the bounce-passes, the passes behind the WRs and the general fact that when looked at him he was clearly over-his-head.
    Sep 3, 2016 at 4:08 AM
  • Anonymous Fan
    Good quarterbacks don't throw into triple overage to begin with. Good quarterbacks notice said coverage and throw it to the wide open guy instead. Give me that QB any day.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 10:56 PM
  • Das Dweeb
    Holy hell, THANK YOU for this. I feel like I've been alone on an island for years. I don't know that he has what it takes to become an elite QB - there have been a lot of reasons you could excuse his faults, but many times he has simply blown it - but I do know he's a hell of a lot better than it's fashionable to say. Compare him to Gabbert - he's not constantly throwing the ball behind guys, and with Gabbert I do mean CONSTANTLY. Ponder played with poise and intelligence against scrubs, but he has roughly half of Kaep's arm and doesn't pose anything close to the running threat. Driskel doesn't have an NFL arm. Kaep is the best QB on the roster. He has to start. If he doesn't, I think York is admitting he's trying to "Major League" this team out of the Bay Area. Joking. But Kaep is the best QB the Niners have.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 9:13 PM
  • ninersush
    in harbaugh's last 2 seasons you will see that we started the season running the ball very little and passing a lot. then we changed strategies to run and pass less. this change was due to our offensive flow sucking. the offense had no timing, no rhythm, and very little success. we switched from relying on kap to relying on gore. after the switch the offense improved. kap had some good throws no doubt. but he never was a consistent enough passer. I get that statistically based on QB Rating, he is #10. last year kap and cam had very similar stats at one point in the season. however if you watched both qbs play, they were not even in the same league. stats can certainly tell you how a player fared number wise, but it doesn't give you the whole picture. the rest of the picture the stats don't tell you is if a qb is accurate, can make good decisions, and has good footwork. those 3 qualities are shared between consistently good qbs. kap has none of them. sure he can rifle a pass in now and then. but he can't throw a receiver open consistently. or lead a receiver to an open spot. or get to his 2nd, 3rd, 4th read. sorry kap just doesn't have it. just watching him play shows it all.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 3:33 PM
  • beldar
    He looked better than Gabbert had at any point in this preseason. That's that's a fact no matter what qualifiers you want to tie to last night's game.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 2:25 PM
  • Angel
    THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH: I was there last night in San Diego and did my own critical analysis. Mr. Lynch, let’s stop this non-sense of “what the 49ers should do with Colin Kaepernick?” The dysfunction and only questions lies with the mismanagement upstairs, particularly about Kaepernick if you have been following the 49er's drama created by GM Baalke. This situation would never happen with other quality organizations such as Baltimore or Pittsburgh to name a few. But regarding Colin, last night is the first starting opportunity this QB has gotten. He was understandably still rusty, but with the good support of our OL, we saw significant progress in terms of his confidence, play calling, his arm strength making strong passes and his smartness when to take his running opportunities due to his healed injuries! He moved the team for two quarters for two scores and there were two key penalties that cost one drive to end in a TD. For record since we must make comparisons, Gabbert has only had one successful drive in each of the two of three games he has started. So Stop these non-sense questions of whether Kaepernick will be on the team
    Sep 2, 2016 at 1:40 PM
  • Saddy101269
    You have to understand, facts are inconvenient to those that are looking for affirmation not information. People with no talent are quick to dismiss those WITH talent.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:46 AM
  • don
    Moving the chains and leading a scoring drive against a bunch of guys who will be cut the next few days did not prove he can play. Come on, he was almost picked twice ran backwards almost giving up a first down and missed on a few throws due to inaccuracy. He's still right on the fringes of the NFL..
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:18 AM
  • boast
    Those two passes at the goal line (the one you mention at the start of the article and his final pass of the 1st half) would've been INTs vs a first team defense. Kap's performance last night is Fool's Gold. Behind the newfound activism and newfound blowout comb which i support wholeheartedly, Kap is till the same QB we've seen regressing every season since 2012.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:07 AM
  • Ron
    Great Article! No QB could survive the OL And OC And HC Kap had and he was injured and never complained! Thank God we didn't let him go! Kap will be comeback player of the year once he gets his chance and prove all those "experts" wrong!
    Sep 2, 2016 at 10:32 AM
  • RishikeshA
    Sorry I don't buy it. There is enough tape to show the same problems over and over again. One read, sideline passes that are 50-50 for the defender or the receiver to make the play, panic in the pocket, you don't have to be a Greg Cosell to make these calls. In the San Diego game he looked one way and threw it there. Defensive coordinators figured him out, many of the fan base have not.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 10:30 AM

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