The San Francisco 49ers will send out quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday for his first start under head coach Chip Kelly. Kaepernick was benched last season after Week 8, amidst ineffectiveness and injuries. The team hired Chip Kelly this offseason, and as soon as he was hired, people immediately began proclaiming that Kaepernick was a perfect fit for the offense.
Kaepernick spent much of the offseason rehabbing his various injuries from last year, which left him behind Blaine Gabbert in reps heading into training camp. A sore arm early in camp cost him two more weeks, and all of that ultimately resulted in Blaine Gabbert claiming the starting quarterback job to start the season. Gabbert had some solid moments these past few weeks, but they were coupled with extreme inconsistency. Eventually, Kelly made the decision to change quarterbacks.
Now that Kaepernick is back in the lineup, plenty of folks are talking about what it means. And people still think he remains a great fit for the offense. Pro Football Focus provided their reasoning at the beginning of the week. We’ll get into that, but first, Bucky Brooks got some strong praise from an NFC scout. Brooks broke down why this could work well, and the scout told him, "Oh, I think he's going to kill it. He's in the perfect system for his skill set. ... I would expect him to do well under Chip."
Brooks and PFF spoke to his running abilities and what it could mean for the zone read. Brooks additionally went into some positives he saw from Kaepernick in the preseason finale.
As a passer in that game, Kaepernick was quick and decisive delivering the ball to his receivers on the perimeter. Part of his efficiency and effectiveness was due to the straightforward nature of the passing game: The 49ers ran a number of simple catch-and-throw concepts with one or two receivers in the progression. Although quarterback gurus would refer to these plays as "remedial" passing concepts, they are route combinations that are routinely featured in high school and college spread offenses. Considering Kaepernick's success at Nevada with these kinds of plays, the utilization of them puts the QB in his comfort zone, which raises his confidence and overall effectiveness.
PFF had a curious comment, saying, “Kaepernick has a strong arm and the ability to throw accurately.” They were saying he would not process things like Peyton Manning, but he had those two traits going for him.
Over the last two seasons, Kaepernick struggled with his accuracy. As David Neumann pointed out, Kaepernick’s downfield accuracy (15+ yards through the air) was fourth best among quarterbacks from 2012 to 2013. Things went downhill from there. Some potential reasons in 2014 were offensive line injuries leading to more pressure on Kaepernick, too many similar wide receivers, and changes to the offensive game plan that went away from some of Kaepernick’s strengths.
The 49ers still have a lot of questions at wide receiver. However, the offensive line has done some solid work, and ideally we see Chip Kelly’s offense play more to the strengths of Kaepernick. We’re going to find out something sooner rather than later.