Fooch's Note: Big thanks to pack_fan for putting together this thorough look at new 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
Hello Niners Nationers. I'll start this off by just saying Colin was a joy to watch play in his 4 years with Nevada. Some of his games against the Boise St. Broncos are now that of legend in Wolf Pack lore, and even have their place in College Football history as well.
Colin started his college career as a red-shirt freshman who came in to replace the injured starter Nick Graziano during the 5th game of the 2007 season against the Fresno Bulldogs. He promptly compiled 384 yds, 4 TDs, and 60 yds rushing winning that game 49-41. During his college career he owned Fresno, some say its because they didnt recruit him despite growing up close to the area. His next game cemented him as a college football star at Nevada, when he took the Wolf Pack to a 69-67 4 OT loss to Boise St. in a near upset of a 26 point favorite. The game was at the time the highest scoring game in FBS history (I believe it still is, or has been tied since, I'm not sure). In his senior season Colin led Nevada to a 13-1 record and a season end #11 AP #13 coaches ranking, the highest ranking the program has ever reached. During the season Colin finally broke through to upset then #3 ranked Boise St. in a dramatic 34-31 come-from-behind overtime win.
While the history is all well and good, I would imagine Niners fans do not care as much about his past as they do his future. While this may speak to his leadership abilities some, it does not answer how he will fare in the NFL. I have often wondered during the last two years whether he could take his game to the highest level league. The following are my thoughts on his transition to the NFL.
- Arm Strength - By far his best skill when it comes to NFL success. If you view video of him, he has a laser of an arm. Equally as impressive is his ability to retain the velocity and accuracy of his throws on the run.
- Running Ability - As you all probably also know, this kid can run. Very athletic, deceptive speed for his size, and he is skilled at making good cuts and accelerating out of them. This will likely be a part of his NFL game, but it is not something that will be as important as it was in his college game.
- Avoiding Sacks - He is one of the better players I've ever watched at extending the play and slipping near sacks. He uses his speed to get out of many would be tackles for losses, even when the defender is able to get his arms around him. I think this will be a key factor to his success in the NFL.
- Durability - In his four years starting for Nevada, Kaepernick never missed a game despite being a run first QB and getting plenty of tough yards. Aside from his simply natural gifted durability, Kaepernick is very skilled at knowing when to go out of bounds and avoid a hit. Some have often been amazed by his durability due to his apparent size (many think he looks slim), but if you look closely you can see that he is in pretty good shape, just that its hidden due to his length.
- Attitude and Personality - From all accounts I've heard, he is a very humble and down-to-earth type person. While you can see his tenacity and confidence during games, he maintains a very humane personality off the field. This was evidenced by his turning down of the invite to be present at the draft instead spending the day with his family. Everything that I've heard tells me he has very solid character as a person. He's a guy that is easy to root for.
- Completion Percentage - The biggest knock on Kaepernick during his college career was his usually poor completion percentage. While he has the plus arm strength, Kaep tends to only throw the line drive type throws. Where he struggled was whenever he had to put any air under the ball, or when he needed to take a little off the pass and float one into a spot for the receiver to catch it. His touch and feel for his throws was always noticeably lacking, that is, until his senior season. He worked a great deal this last offseason on his passing, and it showed. Part of his success may have been due to the breakout of some key receivers at WR and TE, but you could see Kaepernick had gained more confidence and ability to throw touch throws short and down-field. Prior to this year if you would have asked me if he could transition to the NFL, I would have said no and this was the reason why. But what he showed during his final year changed my opinion, so it was that noticeable. This will be the main thing Kaep needs to get better at if he wants to succeed in the NFL, and I do expect him to struggle with it some initially, and he will likely struggle with it his whole career to a degree. But after seeing the improvements he made, that tells me its something he can improve upon. This is a learnable skill, instead of a skill one needs to just be gifted with such as the athleticism or arm strength.
- Decision Making Ability - Due to his running ability and ability to avoid sacks, Kaep tends to hold onto the ball too long. This will not be as easy to do in the NFL, and will be another key factor for him to improve upon. A number of times even into his senior season you would see him make a throw that he should have thrown away, and his coach would usually let him know on the sidelines. This is something I saw improvement on as well in his senior season, though he still has work to do regarding it. Again, this is a learnable skill, so there is plenty of hope here.
- College System - Another thing holding Kaep back will be the system he came from in college. The pistol offense unique to Nevada's coach Chris Ault is an offense that is built with the QB lining up in a shortened shotgun formation with the H-back lining up directly behind him. This allows for a number of option running plays, most of which rely on the QB making a read on the defense and either handing the snap to the running back or keeping it and running it himself [author's edit: As pointed out by hungry hunter in another thread, a lot of these plays were perhaps designed runs with the option look being used simply as a decoy, something that deserves mentioning]. This offense was pioneered at Nevada by coach Ault, with other schools recently beginning to use it (I believe Cal is one of those teams). Due to the system being very run heavy, it was a perfect fit for Colin's abilities. However, being that it is a unique system, Colin has little to no experience in a traditional type system that the 49ers will likely employ (though I don't know what type of system Harbaugh intends to install, I'd be interested to hear everyone's thoughts on that). Kaep very rarely took a snap from under center. We all know run-first QBs at times struggle to make it in the NFL, and due to the system Colin is coming from I think it is a valid worry here.
As I said before, if you asked me 2 years ago whether Kaepernick could make it in the NFL, I would have said no. But after seeing the improvements he made in his final year, that opinion changed. Unquestioned is his love for the game, and I think he has the work-ethic to make the needed improvements for success. I think it would be a very very good move to let him sit the bench and learn the game slowly, even for two or more years. If he is forced into starting before he is ready, I think it will hurt him more so than other QBs. He has the skills to put it together though, just that it might take some time before he does. I'll be watching and rooting for him.
Other interesting notes:
- Kaepernick is adopted. He has two older siblings, a brother and a sister. His parents still live where he grew up in Turlock, CA.
- Kaepernick was also a star baseball player in high school, and was even drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 43rd round of the 2009 MLB draft. Colin turned down a large number of offers to play college baseball, instead taking his only offer to play football.
Sources: I used the Wikipedia pages of Colin, the Nevada football program, and the Boise St. program to clarify a number of facts listed here.