More than Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton or Russell Wilson, Kaepernick will redefine what an "elite" quarterback looks like over the course of the next decade.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski—a man who knows a thing or two about the quarterback position—recently came out with an article in which he gushed over Kaepernick's abilities:
In Kaepernick, Harbaugh has a young, athletic and savvy quarterback who has all of the tools to become the best quarterback in the NFL. To be clear, Kaepernick has a lot to prove before he overtakes the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but there is no question that he has the ability to do so.
"Jaws" then talked about Kaepernick's rare physical tools, including his arm strength, upon which he further stressed:
I want to emphasize that last part because it's a big change in the way we've seen NFL defenses play lately. With offenses leaning more and more on the passing game, we've seen defenses use more and more defensive backs...more bodies in the secondary means less space for a quarterback to fit in the football.
The windows aren't staying open indefinitely; defenses are slamming them shut faster than ever before. You don't have wide open receivers these days unless someone has blown the coverage. That has put a premium on accuracy, but it also puts a premium on arm strength...modern quarterbacks have to have the mustard to strike when they have that split-second opening. Kaepernick has that ability.
Anyone who's watched Kaepernick play for more than a few drives has seen this trait.
Talk About a Tight Window
Here's an excerpt from that column, "Kaepernick trusts his arm more than Smith does, and he's firing the ball into tighter spots than Smith feels comfortable doing."
During the Bears game, Vernon Davis was simply blown away by what he saw from the youngster. After one play in the fourth quarter, Davis went over to Kaepernick, put his hands together and bowed. When asked about that exchange, Davis told reporters, via the Sacramento Bee:
I was so proud of him at that moment because the ball that he threw me, it was one of those balls that you see Tom Brady throw...It was a tight window. Very, very tight. He took the shot. He was very confident in himself, obviously, and he made it happen.
I've watched and re-watched this particular play countless times, and I'm always struck by two things:
- The throw was on the money, which is impressive, because Kaepernick was under severe pressure, right up the gut.
- Tight window doesn't even begin to cover it.
Lance Briggs was blitzing right up the middle, and Kaepernick had the presence of mind to evade the pressure while putting the ball right on the money in between two Bears defenders—three, if you count the safety over the top.
And this isn't a rare occurrence.
Kaepernick routinely fits balls into extremely tight spots, and more often than not, he does so with pin-point accuracy, which is a rare trait—especially in one so young.
But his ability to throw the ball isn't his most dangerous attribute.
Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly made the observation that Kaepernick has the rare ability to bounce back from mistakes.
It's something the national media experienced firsthand when Sam Shields returned Kaepernick's second pass in the NFC Divisional Round for a touchdown. Kaepernick responded by having the game of his life, passing the ball with aplomb the rest of the evening and setting a new NFL single-game rushing record for quarterbacks.
But this was not a new phenomenon to fans of the 49ers who've seen him bounce back every single time he's made a mistake this season.
Kaepernick's first interception of the 2012 season came late in the first half during the 49ers road game against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12.
In response to his mistake, he led his team on a touchdown-producing drive the next time he touched the ball, hitting Delanie Walker on a 45-yard bomb at one point and finishing off the drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Frank Gore.
Kaepernick's second interception of the 2012 season occurred in the third quarter of the team's road game against the New England Patriots in Week 15.
After Frank Gore scored a touchdown on a fumbled exchange between him and Kaepernick, the young signal-caller's next play from the line of scrimmage was a 27-yard touchdown strike to Michael Crabtree.
His final interception of the regular season happened on the first play of the fourth quarter in the team's road loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16.
In response to that poor throw, Kaepernick led the 49ers on the one and only touchdown drive of the game, engineering a 13-play, 83-yard drive which he capped off with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Walker.
Mental toughness is just as important to becoming an elite quarterback as having a strong, accurate arm, and Kaepernick has it in spades.
Don't Forget About the Wheels
The national media couldn't believe what Robert Griffin III was doing with his legs earlier this year, outrunning every defender on the field at times with his world-class speed.
Kaepernick might not win a footrace with RG3, but he's not far behind, and he has a lot more size to go with his package—not to mention a stronger arm.
Unlike RG3, though, we've seen Kaepernick make good decisions about when to get down, avoiding the kinds of hits that caused the Washington Redskins phenom to miss action at times this year.
Furthermore, Kaepernick runs the read-option offense better than RG3 or Wilson of the Seahawks, simply because he's been doing it since his days back at the University of Nevada under Pistol creator Chris Ault.
He understands when to keep the ball and when to hand it off, and once he makes up his mind to keep it, it's rare that he gets caught from behind.
The Packers didn't have a chance in the NFC Divisional Round, as Kaepernick ran roughshod through Green Bay's defense to the tune of 181 yards and two touchdowns.
The Atlanta Falcons respected his speed, playing a disciplined game with their defensive ends, but all that did was give Kaepernick more time to throw on passing plays, which resulted in a phenomenal performance though the air.
Opposing defenses will struggle to defend Kaepernick's offense because he can beat them in so many different ways.
Bottle up the run, and he'll beat you though the air.
Play coverage and he'll take off and run rampant.
Intercept him and he'll bounce back without a second thought.
I'm not ready to crown him as the best quarterback in the NFL just yet, but as long as Kaepernick stays healthy, avoids the big hit and continues to develop under the tutelage of Harbaugh, he has a chance to become the most dangerous NFL quarterback that has ever lived.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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