Yesterday I focused on the 49ers 1st round pick, Aldon Smith. Well today, I am going to write a little about Colin Kaepernick and whether or not I believe he is NFL game ready.
I was pleasantly surprised and happy that San Francisco was able to trade up for Colin Kapernick in the 2nd round of April's draft. He has all the athletic ability you want in a professional quarterback. However, there may be some issues that affect his ability to play in the NFL immediately.
The 2011 NFL QB class was one of the weakest in recent memory. It isn't that there aren't any starter caliber players at that position, I think it is more about not have that "true elite" franchise type quarterback. So, San Francisco was extremely smart not to spend a top 10 pick on Cameron Newton, Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker. I think the teams that drafted them are going to be kicking themselves in a couple of years.
Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick may end up being the best quarterbacks out of this draft class when all is said and done. Both had amazing college careers and translate well to the NFL. Obviously, my focus in this article will not be on Dalton, rather it will be on CK7 (as I call him).
One of the things that caught my attention in re-watching Nevada Wolfpack games was the fact that CK7 has an amazingly strong arm. Now, this could get him in trouble in the NFL because of the speed of the game compared to college. He tends to zip the ball in there up the middle, rather than put some finesse on it. This may have worked well in college, but there could be some issue in regards to this at the next level. NFL secondaries are much faster and see the field much better.
That said, I would rather have a quarterback that has the ability to zip it in there on a dime, rather than leave it floating. I am sure that once CK7 gains experience, he will be able to understand specific situations as it relates to this. For example, throwing a strike when you have over the top coverage will work, however, he will need to understand the coverage beneath when deciphering when to utilize that amazing skill.
Decision making is another important aspect of a quarterbacks transition from college to the pro's. Usually you can get a way with mistakes in college, especially at the level in which CK7 played. However, once you adjust to the pro's, these mistakes are going to be magnified. On more than one occasion, I did see CK7 throw the ball across the field in coverage; relying a great deal on his arm. While, this could work at the NFL level, the chances for success are minimal unless you are running a misdirection play. Again, this is something that CK7 will recognize once he gets more comfortable playing on Sunday's.
Despite issues with mechanics CK7 is extremely accurate on short and intermediate routes. He leads the receivers real well and gets them in a strong position to make plays after the catch. Something that your really look for in a quarterback playing the west coast system. He seems to be good in the long passes as well, but needs to work on getting more loft on the deep routes. Again, this goes right into CK7's confidence in his arm strength; which isn't a bad asset. Nevada didn't run a whole lot of direct screens, but when they did he was pretty good with those type of short passes as well. This bodes well for San Francisco moving forward because we saw Alex Smith, David Carr and Troy Smith struggle with this a great deal in 2010. The last San Francisco quarterback that was extremely strong in this aspect of the game was Jeff Garcia.
Some people may disagree with me on the deep passes and say CK7 puts the right amount of loft on the ball, which may be true. However, I am equating this with his ability to succeed at the NFL level, not what he showed against inferior competition in college.
Another aspect of CK7's game that stood out to me was his above average pocket presence. He could feel when the pocket was collapsing and did a great job either getting rid of the ball or moving away from the pressure and out of the pocket. This is something that is incredibly hard to teach as evidenced with Alex Smith, so it is really nice that CK7 already has this attribute before he has even played a pro game. This aspect of the game might be minimized because the west coast offense's strategy of quick hit and release. But, considering Harbaugh's scheme is going to be somewhat hybrid, this makes CK7 that much more dangerous.
When it comes to athletic ability Kaepernick is right up there with the likes of Cam Newton. However, like Cam he struggles with the fundamentals of playing quarterback. His abilities will intrigue a team and might lead to an earlier than expected selection. But he is going to need time to develop as his technique is far from NFL ready. Ultimately, Kaepernick is a player with a ton of upside but legitimate question marks.
I disagree with the notion that this technique is far from NFL ready. I had taken this stance in the past and leading up to the draft. However, after studying game film and watching him play; this doesn't seem to be a great issue for me. Techniques are a little bit overrated when it comes to NFL signal callers; each one has a different style and motion of throwing, and CK7 is no different.
Mocking the Draft indicates that CK7 has a long release, kind of like a pitcher in baseball. This might be true, but it is something that can either be disguised well or fixed. It is part of his routine of getting rid of the ball and it didn't seem to effect his ability to release it on time when the pocket collapses. Again, this could be a larger issue considering better play in the pro's, but if this is the major knock on CK7 coming out of college I am alright with it.
Final Analysis: Is he ready?
Like any rookie quarterback CK7 is going to face growing pains if he plays. You cannot expect a rookie signal caller to immediately light up defenses, it very rarely happens. While, we have seen Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez have immediate success there were other factors that enabled that success. Each had above average rushing games and incredibly strong offensive lines. Two things I fully expect San Francisco to have in 2011, especially if their offensive line continues to mold.
If he plays, you wont see CK7 throwing for 300 yards and three scores, he just isn't ready to light it up like that. What you will see is a player that can run the offense, remain consistent and limit mistakes. Three things we have been looking for in a 49er signal caller since Jeff Garcia.
I don't expect CK7 to be the starter heading into the season. That is just too much to expect from a rookie quarterback that hasn't had the ability to work with his coaches during the off-season because of the lockout. However, I can envision a scenario in which Smith either struggles or gets hurt. When that happens and depending on the roster logistics at quarterback, CK7 will be thrown into the fire. If that happens you can expect a player that will be game ready and have the ability to lead his team to victory on any given Sunday.
I am looking forward to watching CK7 play this pre-season because I want to see exactly how his game translates to the NFL even though I already have an idea that it will translate well. Anyone expecting him to come in and win the starting job while leading the 49ers to 25+ PPG is mistaking themselves. He will, however, be a solid contributor in the passing game and do what needs to get done. This is what you have to expect from a player as talented as CK7, and moving forward he only promises to get better.