In light of the San Francisco 49ers decision to extend Colin Kaepernick last week, Football Outsiders has a very timely article. This fantastic read breaks down the four most notable mobile quarterbacks, breaking down their rushing numbers, and how they protect themselves (or don't) while running. The article focuses on Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Cam Newton, considering their 2012 and 2013 performances.
Kap did not see his numbers increase in 2013 quite like people might have expected. He had 79 runs in 2012, and then saw that number increase to 106 in 2013. Given that he only started half the 2012 season (and had a few designed runs prior to Alex Smith's injury), his rushing rate decreased in 2013. There has been a lot of discussion about this. Kap reportedly dealt with a foot injury last year that might have led the coaching staff to limit his scrambling to some extent. Additionally, the backup situation was not exactly confidence inspiring. Alex Smith was no longer around as his backup, and the team did not seem to have a lot of faith in Colt McCoy. That could have led to slowing things a bit. Of course, as the article mentions, we saw the cuffs come off in January. He averaged nearly 9 rushes per game in the 49ers three playoff games. During the regular season, he had nine or more rushes four times total.
The more interesting stuff for our purposes might be the discussion of how players protect themselves while running. Kap ended up with the lowest percentage of runs where he was tackled. His tackle percentage went up from 2012, but both years he was the lowest of the four quarterbacks. A big reason for this in 2013 was his penchant for sliding. Over the course of 106 runs, Kap slide 29.2 percent of the time. Cam Newton was second, sliding 19.1 percent of the time.
Here are Scott's conclusions, specific to Kap:
After charting these players for the last two years, Kaepernick's rushing ability still impresses me the most. No one gets from one point to the other with as much speed and carefulness as Kaepernick. He knows how to slide and when to get out of bounds. He knows when it's crunch time and the extra yard is necessary.
Does that make him a $20 million per year player? Probably not, but worrying he's going to get hurt running the ball is not a valid reason to downgrade him. His potential ceiling is worth that contract, and if there was a quarterback who could throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season, Kaepernick looks the prototype.
Watching Kap run can really be a sight to behold. The best ones are when he finds a little bit of open space to turn up field. He can do a good job on shorter runs, but when he can get into the open field, I don't know that anybody is better. His long legs allow him to put space between himself and defenders with relative ease.
And even though there are a lot of moving parts when Kap is running, he's shown an ability to protect himself. I have to think some of that comes from his work in Nevada's offense. He's not the only quarterback with that kind of experience, but he has taken it to heart. He is signed through the next seven seasons, in a deal that includes $2 million per season in game day roster bonuses. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers use him in the ground game this season, and beyond. Do we see something similar to last season where he is active on the ground, but not nearly as much until the playoffs arrive? It would be pretty awesome to see Kap make a run at some kind of 4,000/1,000 season, but the FO article makes a good point saving it for when it matters most. The team actually has to make it to the playoffs for any of this to matter, but for now the talent remains there to make it happen.