Colin Kaepernick: Realistic Expectations for 49ers QB's First Full Season

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Colin Kaepernick: Realistic Expectations for 49ers QB's First Full Season
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick helped take his team to the Super Bowl as a second-year pro, and he doesn't even have 16 full games under his NFL belt.

Needless to say, expectations will be through the roof as he enters his first full season as the team's starting signal-caller.

Seemingly a new breed of QB, Kaepernick helped the Niners claim the NFC's No. 2 seed and rode his hot streak all the way to Super Bowl XLVII—only to be stopped by Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens in this year's ultimate NFL clash.

While Kaepernick is one of the first NFL QBs to successfully run the pistol, dual-threat, read-option offense, he's not the first. Michael Vick, Vince Young and Cam Newton have also successfully integrated the threat of running into the big leagues, and Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm doing much of the same in his rookie season.

Will Kaepernick carry SF back to the Super Bowl next year?

Now that the 49ers have had the Super Bowl taste, but not the entree, expectations to return in 2013-14 will be higher than ever. Most of those expectations will be heaped onto Kaepernick's back, especially if San Francisco trades away Alex Smith in the offseason.

Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs believes in Kaepernick, as evidenced by his interview with Jim Rome:

When you go in there and you’re playing a guy like that, I hate quarterbacks, but that kid is the truth and I have the upmost respect for him.

A popular term used in NFL circles is the "sophomore slump." When a QB takes the league by storm, we usually praise his success, but realize that once teams have a full closet of film on that player, the results could be drastically different.

The question remains—what can we realistically expect from Kaepernick with a full season of games?

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He'll likely be a first-round pick in next year's fantasy football drafts, but what about actually on the field? Is this year's success sustainable, or is it a big fluke?

Well, it's no fluke, as Kaepernick has proven his worth as both a pocket passer and as a rusher. To get a better look at what his stats might look like during the 2013 regular season, we can take a look back at Vince Young and Cam Newton's second seasons. If nothing else, they'll give us a little bit of an idea of what Kaepernick is in for, since both are similar players in terms of having a skill set that transcends the "traditional" NFL QB.

Young, who took the league by storm as a rookie, increased his win total by one during his second full season and took major steps in improving as a passer. However, his interception total ballooned to 17 and his passing-touchdown total decreased to nine.

Newton, who fell victim to the slump to start the 2012 season, actually improved as a passer as the year wore on. His touchdown number stayed around the same total, and his interception numbers were down. He took a ton of hits, though, and got sacked 36 times.

Here's a look at all three QBs and where they stacked up from Year 1 to Year 2.

  Cmp%—1st Cmp—2nd TD—1st TD—2nd INT—1st INT—2nd
Vince Young 51.5 62.3 12 9 13 17
Cam Newton 60.0 57.7 21 19 17 12
Colin Kaepernick
(seven starts in 2012)
62.4 ??? 10 ??? 3 ???

As you can see, it's a mixed bag with these results. Since Kaepernick has shown a better arm than Young ever did, it's easy to give him the advantage over the former Tennessee Titans star. But Newton progressed in terms of limiting his interceptions, something that could go either way for Kaep.

As rushers, Young and Newton also showed some serious chops in their rookie seasons, and then had a mixed bag in their second campaigns—especially holding on to the ball.

  YPC—1st YPC—2nd TD—1st TD—2nd Fumbles—1st Fumbles—2nd
Vince Young 6.7 4.2 7 3 12 10
Cam Newton 5.6 5.8 14 8 5 10
Colin Kaepernick
(seven starts in 2012)
6.6 ??? 5 ??? 9 ???

Kaepernick has more straight-line speed than Newton and Young, but it's not they are strictly goal-line rushers. Each can get out and run, much like Kaepernick did to establish himself as the unquestioned starter in San Francisco.

It's difficult predict what a QB is going to do after his first taste of success—even harder if you throw in his ability to run. Kaepernick and RG3 are a new breed of these speedster QBs, and it's going to be hard to decipher what a full 16-game slate will look like in San Francisco's offense.

Judging by Kaepernick's 2012 success and by some of his tendencies, though, we at least have a shot. Throw in Newton and Young's seasons, and we have a better shot.

As a pocket passer, Kaepernick shows plenty of room for growth. He stares down receivers a tad too much, and will benefit from an entire offseason with a coaching staff that will try to mold his footwork and vision into that of an elite passer.

Since he has a rocket arm, some of those stare downs don't end up hurting the Niners. However, with film on his tendencies in tow, Kaepernick must make improving his passing game priority No. 1 this offseason.

As a runner, he needs to limit his fumbles. Nine fumbles in just seven starts is alarming, even if the opposition didn't recover them all.

However, his touchdown numbers seem poised to go up. Even if they go down, it could spell more touchdowns for Frank Gore and LaMichael James.

We're sure to see more record-breaking performances from this kid. His game against Green Bay in the playoffs set the bar so high that anything less is now a disappointment, but that's just the nature of the amazing sometimes.

All that being said, here are some realistic stat projections for Kaepernick in 2013-14:

2013 Kaepernick Projected

Pass Yds Cmp% PTDs INTs Rush Yds Rush TDs Fumbles QB Rating
3,300 63.0 20 14 775 9 15 88.5

Those are quality numbers for a second season.

Don't expect Jim Harbaugh to overuse him at all. He has three steady backs that can all contribute, and Kaepernick's best runs of 2012 arguably came when he escaped from the pocket.

Expect his INT numbers and fumbles to rise a little bit, especially if opposing defenses can key on some of his tendencies.

While these numbers don't jump off the board, they are of high quality—better than 90 percent of other QBs in football when both passing and rushing are taken into account.

Kaepernick is here to stay as an NFL starter. I welcome him to prove me wrong on these projections, because anything more is bordering all-time greatness.

All that's left is the waiting. Sorry to get you worked up, 49ers fans—sometimes potential can be an exciting thing.

 

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