Originally posted on You Make The Calls - see the full post here.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way: the 49ers have to extend starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Not only is he a proven winner but as a proud player, he will not suffer being paid half what his backup makes, a backup that flamed out in spectacular fashion as a starter. The question: how much should the 49ers pay their man?
I originally analyzed Colin's tape from the loss to the Panthers in Week 10. You can see that analysis here. But Colin was missing his favorite target, Michael Crabtree in that game. In case there's any doubt how important Crabtree is to Colin, here are Colin's splits with and without #15 (pro-rated for a 16 game season):
The improvement is slight - however, it is these type of slight improvements, made year over year, that spell the difference between superstar QBs and merely average ones. It is notable that every single statistic is better with Crabtree in the game. So to value Colin fairly, I wanted to analyze game tape with Crabtree. As many of you will remember, one of the 49ers' biggest wins last season was in Week 13 versus Seattle. The full analysis of each pass can be found here. For brevity on this site, I have included only certain notable plays.
First, let's look at some throws that could have been better:
Kaepernick's first throw of the game was a comeback to Crabtree on the left side. In frame 3, Colin opens his hips unnecessarily, which causes the ball to sail. Crabtree should have made the catch anyway, but the increased level of difficulty led to a drop. With as much room Crabtree had (frame 4), this should have been a better-thrown ball.
His 4th throw came after a 7-step drop from under center. 7 steps is a lot against a fierce pass rush and allows edge rushers to use their speed. Colin has room in the pocket and should step up to allow his tackles to chip the speed rushers deeper in to the backfield. Despite flawed footwork, he is able to put a ton of zip on the ball and beats the defense for a big completion. The timing of the route may have prevented Colin from shifting forward and righting his feet, but I counter that he should be quick enough on small shuffle steps as to not affect timing.
Colin's 5th throw attacks the middle of the Seattle zone. The throw looks like either a mis-read or a late - it's delivered to Anquan Boldin after he has exited the soft spot in the middle of the zone. In frame 2, Frank Gore is heading into that soft spot and would have had a decent gain on the checkdown. A 5 yard checkdown on 1st down constitutes a win for the offense. The pass is incomplete but at least Kaepernick has the good sense to keep it low so as to avoid an interception.
On the 16th pass, the pocket breaks down and Colin scrambles for a couple. I don't like in frame 3 how low he holds the ball - keeping it up allows him to throw quicker and reduces the risk of a strip.
His 22nd throw came after a huge completion gave the 49ers the ball in the red zone. They run a pick play on a slant to Crabtree. Frame 1 diagrams the pick: one slot receiver runs right at the inside DB, the other tries to occupy the linebacker. In frame 2, you can see that Anquan has totally blocked the DB - he would ultimately be flagged for offensive pass interference. In frame 3, though, you can see the ball is thrown horribly behind Crabtree. Despite the penalty, this should have been an easy completion.
His last poor pass of the day wasn't really bad at all. It's a well-thrown go route to Crabtree on the left sideline that Byron Maxwell made an amazing play on to intercept. Kaepernick's fundamentals and footwork were strong and a pass thrown 3 inches higher is likely a touchdown:
With a 1st down and the lead, the 49ers are looking for positive yardage to keep the clock running. Kaepernick opens his hips again, however, causing the pass to drift to the sideline, bouncing of Gore's hands. If this pass were to a receiver, I'd say great job leading his man. But throwing to a running back, Kaepernick has to make this an easier ball to catch.
Next, let's see Colin show off his strengths:
After a few rocky throws to start the game, Kaepernick picks up a nice completion on an ISO route to Crabtree. The 49ers consistently attacked Seattle's Cover-3 along the sidelines by throwing in-between the short and deep zones. That's tough because you have to loft the ball enough to clear the linebackers but put enough zip so that the corner doesn't have time to close. Colin executes a 5-step drop sharply and throws in rhythm at the top of the drop. The result is a great completion. Colin does have to watch his form after the throw; he should be facing the receiver in frame 3. Still, great pass:
The 49ers again attack that intermediate area in the zone; this time Kaepernick is rolling to his right and going against Richard Sherman. Despite an increased level of difficulty, the pass is perfectly placed. You can see in frame 4 how the ball is right on the sideline and in frame 5 the line judging is signalling complete. The officials ultimately ruled that Crabtree was barely out of bounds, but this was still a fantastic throw:
Another throw on the run, this time after scrambling from the pocket. Colin does a great job of keeping his eyes up and identifying the weakness in the zone. He also does a good job keeping his feet pointed downfield while he runs. A great pass to Crabtree is dropped but the 49ers do catch the Seahawks with defensive holding:
This looks like a throwaway, but frame 4 shows the Seahawks grabbing Crabtree. Kaepernick wisely throws in this direction to draw the pass interference flag.
One of Colin's best throws of the day is a double move against Richard Sherman. Colin pumps once to the left and moves right, throwing a strike on the run to a well-covered Anquan Boldin. This is why I flatly reject the notion that Kaepernick is a "one read" quarterback. You can't play in this league as a one-read QB. Is he slower moving from read to read than other players? Yes. But he stays away from trouble (as his relatively low interception rate shows) and knows where to attack. Frame 5 shows Kaepernick's natural 3/4 arm slot - who says he can't be accurate throwing from this slot? Frames 6-8 show that this tough completion was made despite P-I on Sherman. Note to the 49ers: bring Boldin back.
A great play design: everyone pulls right while a receiver clear the corner on the left. Seattle devotes so many resources to sealing running lanes (particularly on the weak side) that they forget about Vernon Davis sneaking across the formation. This doesn't happen if they aren't scared of Kaepernick running. Instead he makes a beautiful throw to a place only Davis can reach it: Vernon hauls it in and runs for another 10 yards.
After the badly thrown slant to Crabtree, Kaepernick caps the scoring drive within another beautiful toss to Vernon Davis. His feet are initially pointed down the middle, but his right ankle is facing left. QB coaches call the bone that protrudes from the inside of the rear ankle the QB's "eye," as it should always be able to "see" the target. The ball indeed goes left, away form a linebacker than never had a chance. Frames 4 and 6 show how nice this pass was: Colin has an area about the size of an MLB strike zone to place this ball and he does so perfectly. I also like how on short and intermediate passes, he tends to throw low. His size and arm strength are an advantages here as it allows him to put enough velocity on the ball to throw straighter lines, not needing to arc the ball upwards as much. Throws to the bottom edge of the strike zone have two advantages: 1) they are less likely to be tipped in the air and intercepted and 2) they are hard for the defenders to reach. I can't reiterate how great of a pass this was.
Seattle blitzes 5 and I like that, rather than run backwards, Colin slides forward in the pocket and takes off up the middle for 5. Good inside-out blocking by the line made this possible.
Another nice throw on the run. I still don't like how loosely he holds the ball in frame 4 but the pass is a strike to Crabtree right in front of Sherman. Richard thinks it's out-of-bounds but is wrong:
Colin evades 3 would-be tacklers and throws a strike along the right sideline. The officials get the offensive line for holding, but what a great effort by #7:
Not a passing play, but a great play design and run by Kaepernick to seal the game. The 49ers pull everyone to the left and leave Anquan Bolding to block the defensive end, which he does admirably (re-sign this man!!!). This run won the game:
- Arm talent. Colin showed his ability to put arc on balls, throw lasers, throw on the run, throw under pressure, even throw when his footwork was bad. He only really missed 3 throws: the slant to Crabtree, and two overcooked throws to running backs in the flat.
- Chemistry with receivers. This is about understanding where receivers want the ball, putting it where only his guy can get it. Colin routinely placed balls high or low out of the defense’s reach, otherwise known as "throwing the receiver open."
- Improved understanding of passing lanes. Colin has struggled in the past with having balls batted. I think it’s a combination of A) his tendency to throw low on shorter routes, B) his height, which allows him to see over the defense so he doesn’t respect the rush as much, and C) a ¾ arm slot that isn’t a problem as long as he’s consistent. But as the pocket collapsed time and time in this game, Colin showed the necessary patience when throwing lanes weren’t there.
- Reads. I strongly dispute the notion that Colin is a one-read quarterback. He is slower moving from read to read compared to more advanced QBs and he struggles more with reads on opposite sides of the field. But the coaches had a great game plan in this game and in the last two games versus a historic Seahawks passing defense, I always though Colin knew where to go with the ball. Importantly, he stays away from trouble and doesn't lock on to receivers, tipping the defense for easy picks
- Footwork. Footwork. Footwork. Colin usually gets his front pointed in the general right direction, but he often opens his hips to the field. I know he has a strong arm and maybe he’s more comfortable throwing this way. The effect is there is too much side-to-side torque on the ball, which causes instability and missed throws. He is already a great QB – can you imagine how much better he could be if he consistently aligned both feet in the direction of the throw?
- Moving in the pocket. It’s hard to be consistent in the pocket when the offensive line breaks down like the 49ers’ did in this game. Toward the end, Colin got "happy feet" on a few drops, anticipating the rush when he had time to throw. Colin needs to get better at subtle, smaller shifts in the pocket that allow him to avoid pressure but keep his feet oriented in the right direction to throw quickly.
- Ball security. He only got loose with it a few times, but he needs to keep that ball high and close to the chest.
- Pre-snap reads and looking off safeties. As he gets more comfortable with reading the defense pre-snap and getting an idea of where he wants to go with the ball, Colin needs to start looking the other way to fool safeties. He’s a decent threat on play fakes where defense are terrified of him as a running threat, but he needs to fake them with his passing prowess as well.
- Drop back mechanics. Watching Colin the last two years, it looks like he long legs make dropping back a bit harder for him. It's not a disaster, but he doesn't look as comfortable as the best passers. College QBs are often taught to get as far back as fast as they can, but the NFL is much more detail-oriented. Because rushers in the NFL are so much better, blockers are taught to block to a spot depending on how many steps the drop-back is. They are also taught to open certain passing lanes depending on where the QB should be at the top of his drop. In the Carolina game, I noticed some inconsistency in Colin's drop depth and location. I specifically watched for it in this game. His most frequently used drop was 5 steps from under center. The coaches ask him to get 8 yards on these steps:
But in the second half, as the rush got home a few times, the drops starting getting a little inconsistent. First shorter:
And then longer:
Not a catastrophe, but good QBs are very consistent on their drops.
Before the Super Bowl, I wrote "Russell [Wilson] is the best young quarterback in the league, RIGHT NOW" (emphasis original). Colin Kaepernick is not at that level. But weighing his strengths and weaknesses as a package, I would take it gladly. Some of his strengths you can't teach; I believe his weaknesses can be worked on. But after watching Colin play Seattle three times this season, my overall feeling after each game was: Colin moved the ball. In this game, the 49ers only went 3-and-out twice, and three scoring drives covered over 50 yards (two TD drives went over 70). They also had a 40 yard drive that ended with a field goal and a 48 yards drive that ended on the Maxwell pick. All this against the best pass defense in a decade.
This is an un-statistical way to view things, but watching this game (and the NFC Championship), I was never afraid of the Seattle pass defense. With an aging Frank Gore, I was hoping the coaches would put these games into Colin's hands. And he delivered. He always seem to know where to go with the ball and seemed confident in the game plan and his abilities. He was never shell-shocked. You know who was? Peyton freaking Manning. I understand the small sample size and the purely anecdotal nature of this analysis, and that Kaepernick is not yet a consistent passer. But he shows up time after time in big games against great opponents and he gives his team an excellent chance to win. I don't know what more you can ask of a second-year quarterback.
As far as his salary - top QB salaries are currently in the $20mm+ range for the top 5 QBs. For Kaepernick, I am comfortable with a range of $15mm to $17mm. At the bottom of that range are guys like Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger who have gotten it done, but are on the decline. At the top of that range are Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford. You could argue that Kaepernick is better than those guys already (I wouldn't - not yet, as the 49ers have a much better team around their QB than Dallas or Detroit). $18mm and above makes me nervous, but I'm hopeful that a deal can be made that would place Kaerpenicks' total salary in the top 10.
That's my opinion, You Make The Call! Again, see the full pass-by-pass analysis here. #QBCorner #YouMakeTheCalls #YTMC