Colin Kaepernick: Breaking Down Differences Between Young QB and Alex Smith

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 25:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to throw the ball against the New Orleans Saints at The Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 25, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Head coach Jim Harbaugh made the decision that Colin Kaepernick will be the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers over Alex Smith. While many disagree, this is the right decision for the team.

The popular notion in sports is that you should not lose your job due to injury. Smith feels like this is exactly what happened, telling the media (via ESPN), "I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion."

He is partly right, because he did not lose his job because he did anything wrong.

However, the job went to Kaepernick because he is a better player and he gives the team a better chance to win. The injury only gave the second-year player a chance to shine.

While it is unfair for Smith to lose his job without a chance to defend it, his body of work gives Harbaugh a good idea of what he can do. In the end, he does not have the ability to match his competition in several key areas.

Running the Football

Alex Smith is not slow, but he does not scare defenses when he leaves the pocket. Last year, he had a career-high of 179 rushing yards and has followed that up with 134 yards this year.

Conversely, Kaepernick forces teams to account for his running ability at all times. This was part of his appeal coming out of college after rushing for 4,112 yards in his career at Nevada. He also clocked a 4.53 second 40-yard dash at the combine, according to Mike Sando of ESPN.

Kaepernick often came into games as a wildcat option while Smith was still a starter. In that time, defenses expected runs but he still managed 111 yards on 13 carries.

As a full-time starter, he added 103 yards on the ground.

Opponents are then forced to account for the run game, which usually leaves an extra man open down the field.

He can also extend plays when he gets under pressure and make plays out of would-be sacks.

The quarterback's ability to run creates a lot more opportunities on the offense that Smith just cannot provide.


After six years of mediocre completion percentages, Smith had finally improved that mark this season. 

He currently leads the NFL with a completion percentage of 70, well above his previous career-high 61.3 from last season. Overall, he has completed only 59 percent of his career passes.

The improved numbers could be more indicative of a fluke in a small sample size rather than a trend in accuracy. 

He is also taking sacks at a higher pace than he has since his rookie year, with one sack every 10 dropbacks. While this reduces the number of incomplete passes, it does not help the team.

Kaepernick has not only completed a solid 64.9 percent of his passes, but those throws are coming with a high degree of difficulty.

Like in the video above, he is hitting receivers on deep routes perfectly in stride so they can continue to get yards after the catch. Subtle differences in where the ball is thrown can make a huge difference in a play, and Kaepernick puts the ball exactly where it needs to be, especially on deep passes.

Teammate Support

A quarterback change for a contending team this late in the year is something that could tear apart a locker room.

The opposite seems to be happening, with a number of players publicly supporting the new signal caller.

Michael Crabtree is enjoying himself in the new-look offense. According to Cam Inman of the Mercury News, the receiver said recently, "There's not too many guys that can throw the ball like Kap."

Tight end Vernon Davis was equally excited when talking about Kaepernick. CSN's Matt Maiocco quoted him on Twitter after a game:

49ers TE Vernon Davis: "I felt like somebody took the handcuffs off me."

— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) November 20, 2012

Players do not want to choose one player or the other for fear of hurting someone's feelings, but there is a genuine excitement around the offense in the last two weeks. 

The 49ers averaged 13.3 points per game in the last three games before Smith's injury. In the last two games, the team has scored over 30 in each.

While part of that came from defensive touchdowns, the offense definitely got a jolt when Kaepernick took over and the players have seen the difference.


Despite a few improvements in a few stats, you pretty much know what you will get out of Smith after 6.5 years in the NFL. It is possible that you can win a Super Bowl with him at quarterback, but he is not among the league's elite.

Kaepernick has the ability to take this team to the next level from possible contender to possible dynasty.

At 25 years old, the quarterback still has room to improve and could be with the team for a long time.

Considering the team's ability to sign key players to extensions, the core group will be around for years. With a top-level quarterback, it will be tough for anyone to compete, especially when players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning begin to retire.

Alex Smith has been the answer at quarterback for the 49ers for years because there were no other options. Colin Kaepernick is not only another option, but he is the better one for now and the future of this franchise.


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