After an impressive performance in place of Alex Smith, reports are now indicating that the San Francisco 49ers are leaning toward second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick to be their starter for their Week 12 game against the New Orleans Saints.
The athletic, physical specimen has spent the week taking first-team reps, which almost always leads to that player getting the nod on Sunday.
But is it the right decision?
We hear it all the time—the NFL is a, "What have you done for me lately?" league.
Sure it is. We've seen that time and time again. Often players who have been perceived as elite even see their playing time decreased in situations where they've struggled and other players have stepped up. But very rarely does that happen due to an injury.
There's an old adage in the NFL that tells us players don't lose their starting role due to injury. If 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh does decide to bench Smith in favor of Kaepernick on Sunday, that's exactly what will be happening—his starting quarterback will have lost his job due to an injury.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with taking a long look at the talent on your roster and analyzing the situation, but if Alex Smith is healthy he deserves to be this team's starter.
As someone who has flat-out bashed Smith as being one of the worst draft busts of the past decade, even I can see coach Harbaugh's apparent decision to start Kaepernick is the wrong one.
Smith has spent much of his career being considered a complete flop by NFL analysts, but his past two seasons have been nothing short of incredible. Not only has he improved statistically, Smith has also put together one of the best winning percentages in the league.
Since re-taking his job as the 49ers' QB in 2011, Smith's record as a starter is an amazing 19-5-1. That number alone puts him in the elite at his position.
While those wins certainly can't all be credited to Smith putting the team on his back, the truth is that he has done his job as a game manager better than practically anyone in the game. He has thrown just 10 interceptions over his past 25 games, compared to 30 touchdowns.
Colin Kaepernick has started just one NFL game. While he was unquestionably impressive in that game, the fact remains that it was just one game.
Yes, Kaepernick threw all over the Bears. Yes, he's more physically-gifted than Smith. Yes, he's a younger player who could very well be the future of the 49ers' franchise... but if this little experiment doesn't work out, he could also be the reason the team misses its chances at a Super Bowl title this season.
For a quarterback with the physical skills of Kaepernick, it's not unlikely at all that the Chicago Bears simply weren't ready for what he delivered on the field. Perhaps they didn't believe he would be so much of a focal point of the offense.
But for anyone to believe—after one game—that Colin Kaepernick is ready to lead this team to the Super Bowl, is complete insanity.
The history of the NFL is chock-full of quarterbacks who have had one good game then fallen off into obscurity.
There would be riots in the streets of Wisconsin, and rightfully so.
Look, Alex Smith is not an elite quarterback, but the guy's statistical output has been great this season. His QB rating of 104.1 is better than any passer in the game not named Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers.
Better yet, his 70 percent completion number is the absolute best in the league. At 6-2-1, he had his team well on their way to another divisional title and likely another first-round bye.
But the craziest thing about this whole ordeal might not be the statistical analysis that proves Smith should still be in the game, but rather the scenario that played out which gave way for Kaepernick to get into the game.
Smith actually suffered his concussion during the first half of the 49ers' Week 10 tie against the Rams. But even while injured, Smith got back on the field and continued to play—he even threw a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree while his eyes were still blurry from the hit.
The toughness shown by Smith to get back on the field was incredible. Yet once he came off the field and the trainers had a chance to analyze his physical condition, they decided the concussion symptoms he was experiencing were too much to allow him back on the field.
This was a safety precaution to protect the player—not a decision by the player to sit out because he couldn't deal with the pain.
Simply put, Alex Smith deserves to be given his job back. His performance this season hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination and a second-year quarterback who had one good—not great—game, should not be taking his place.
NFL coaches often find themselves having to make very tough quarterback decisions, but this is not one of those. If Jim Harbaugh has any sense, he will stick with the guy who has brought him this far.
Until Smith proves otherwise, he should be the unquestioned starter in San Francisco.
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