Is San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick the Next Randall Cunningham?

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Is San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick the Next Randall Cunningham?
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Colin Kaepernick has broken onto the NFL scene.

Today, expect San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to officially announce the quarterback for the remainder of the season. 

In the battle between Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith, it will be a high ceiling versus consistency and solidarity. Unfortunately for Smith, Kaepernick has been turning all sorts of heads in his past 2.5 games. 

He has wowed onlookers with his physical gifts and veteran-like savvy, making a strong bid for the starting job in San Francisco. 

Furthermore, Kaepernick’s dual-threat ability has had folks comparing him to Randall Cunningham. In terms of raw talent, both players came into the league with such high potential.  

With similar measureables (both are 6’4” with Cunningham at 216 pounds and Kaeperkick at 233 pounds) and top-flight speed, Cunningham and Kaepernick have shown explosive playmaking ability from the quarterback position. Not to mention, they both were second-round draft picks that developed their skills in the state of Nevada—one in Reno and one in Las Vegas. 

And the comparison to Cunningham is pretty generous, considering the former Eagles and Vikings passer had a solid run in the NFL. In his career, Cunningham finished with more touchdowns than Troy Aikman and more yards than Terry Bradshaw. 

But perhaps Kaepernick will have an opportunity to do something Cunningham never did, which is win a Super Bowl.

 

The Art of Passing

Like Cunningham, Kaepernick has established a presence as a dynamic passer. He is a home run threat in that he can make big things happen downfield by extending the play with his legs. 

Both quarterbacks are dependent on their ability to feel and elude pressure, then deliver the football to a receiver. More often than not, Cunningham was able to keep the play alive long enough for the defense to break down. 

This is how Cunningham and Kaepernick have been able to gash pass defenses. 

When defensive units are on high alert for the run, it causes hesitation, and that hesitation opens windows in this passing game. The wild, uncanny elusiveness is what made them such unique passers. 

And like Cunningham, Kaepernick is a strong-armed quarterback that can heave it deep. Combined with the mobility, he is a threat to kill teams deep on any given play, which is an intimidating edge to have on game day.  

In some aspects, Kaepernick has completely mirrored Cunningham, particularly when it comes to his elusiveness and ability to feel pressure. The similarity is uncanny, watching them both ducking and juking and weaving through defenders, a moment before pushing the ball 50 yards down the field. 

And by stretching defenses sideline-to-sideline with their great speed and mobility, both QBs have been able to shown the ability to create throwing lanes. 

Cunningham was the starting quarterback on one of the highest scoring offenses of all time with the 1998 Minnesota Vikings. That year, rookie receiver Randy Moss finished with 69 receptions for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. 

Cunningham’s best year as a quarterback happened in Minnesota, where he was a veteran that scrambled out of necessity. Cunningham’s skills and Moss’ skills formed a picturesque relationship that year for the Vikings. 

With Kaepernick behind center, Moss might get an opportunity to rekindle some of those moments and throw the hand up again. 

 

Presence As A Dual-Threat

Randall Cunningham is one of the most mobile QB threats of all time, alongside players like Steve Young and Michael Vick

On top of their ability to keep plays alive in the passing attack, Cunningham and Kaepernick brought incredible speed to the quarterback position. Their quickness aided in their natural elusiveness, but the straight-line speed is there as well. 

Coming into the league, Kaepernick was clocked at a 4.53 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. 

And since joining the 49ers, Kaepernick has been used sparingly, coming in occasionally to run the read-option. His athletic ability made headlines this year and his top-flight speed made ESPN’s Top 10. In the 2012 preseason, Kaepernick took a keeper 78 yards against the Vikings defense. 

He also made the Jets and Packers look foolish during the regular season. 

Randall Cunningham made a career shredding defenses with his legs. For a long time, Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan used Cunningham as a run-first quarterback. He was such a dynamic threat running the ball that defenses never knew what they were going to get. 

As runners, Cunningham and Kaepernick are nearly identical.

With the 6’4” frame, they have a long, galloping stride. It seems to take them no time at all to get from point A to point B. They possess a rare top speed that one doesn’t often find in a quarterback prospect. 

Kaepernick has the acceleration and extra gear scouts look for in running backs. These are the same sort of physical gifts that Cunningham used to blaze defenses with over a decade ago. 

They also both absorb blows well; their flexibility and bendiness make them challenging for defenders to bring down. They harness the momentum of their opponent in order to keep the play alive. 

What could be said about Cunningham and Kaepernick as runners overall is that they played very instinctual football.

 

Conclusion

There are a great deal of likenesses between Colin Kaepernick and Randall Cunningham. From a broad perspective, they are both similarly gifted players with incredible ability as dual-threats. And as quarterbacks, they brought the wow factor to the game of football. 

For years, Cunningham provided versatility and a change of pace with his athletic ability. With a comparable skill set, Kaepernick is looking to cause similar issues for defenses down the road. 

The second-year QB is already showing himself to be an accurate deep passer that can just as easily run around defenses. He will become a legitimate nightmare for defensive coordinators. 

There is a lot to work with, but the 49ers will want to harness and control the big-play ability Kaepernick brings from the QB position. He will run and pass, hurting teams any which way, but there must be order. 

When Harbaugh decides to move forward with the young prodigy, there will be discernible differences between Cunningham and him. The 49ers will want Kaepernick to be ’98 Cunningham, if any. In the early 90’s, Cunningham was developed into a running quarterback. 

And while Harbaugh will take advantage of his athletic ability, Kaepernick is being developed into a high-IQ passer with great escape ability. A big part of his game is extending plays, but as we’ve seen with Kaepernick, he keeps his eyes downfield. 

At this stage in his career, Cunningham was much quicker to take off with the football than Kaepernick is today.   

Cunningham’s best year as a passer—the year he got within a play of the Super Bowl—was in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings, when he averaged 4.1 yards per carry. During his career in Philadelphia, Cunningham averaged between 6.0 and 8.2 yards per carry. 

Coach Harbaugh’s offense is a meticulous design with seemingly unlimited options—hence the interest in promoting Kaepernick to the starter.  

Harbaugh has already been more organized with Kaepernick, incorporating the read-option and play action to give his quarterback pass/run options. 

The 49ers coaching staff will also continue to work on and emphasize decision-making on the field. Like Cunningham eventually did with Minnesota, it will be important for Kaepernick to regulate his running. 

He has tremendous upside and could do some damage in this league. A great coaching staff and an A+ surrounding cast could help Kaepernick achieve what Cunningham never did.

 

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