"I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever," ESPN NFL guru Ron Jaworski recently said of the young San Francisco 49ers quarterback. "I love his skill set. I think the sky's the limit."
So, the next logical question is...
What does Kaep have to do to prove him right? You know, to take what many assumed was attention-grabbing hyperbole and make "Jaws," well, the greatest football prognosticator in history.
Kaepernick's response was perfect: "I'm working. To me, it's a great honor he said that. I'm very flattered by it. But at the same time, I haven't played a full season yet."
Because the 25-year-old Kaepernick hasn't yet played in a full season, let's see what the statistics from his seven starts in 2012 would look like extrapolated over 16 games. (As a traditional starter now, it makes more sense to exclude the games in which he was a gadgety run option.)
For fun—and to take somewhat of a literal approach to Jaws' predictions on what little statistical evidence we have for Kaepernick at this point—here's what his career stat line would look like if he had 13 more seasons identical to the 16-game extrapolation of his 2012 campaign, plus the numbers he accumulated last year.
Only four quarterbacks have ever reached 50,000-plus passing yards in their careers: Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and John Elway. Drew Brees and Tom Brady should get there soon, but Kaep's hypothetical total of 49,589 would certainly put him in the "greatest ever" discussion.
His 306 passing touchdowns would place him far behind Favre's record of 508, but only seven have even reached the 300 plateau.
It would also be legendary if Colin Kaepernick ended his NFL career with only 91 interceptions. Tony Romo heads into this season with exactly 91 career picks, Brady (123), Brees (165) and Eli Manning (144) are well above 100, and Peyton Manning has actually thrown 209. Not surprisingly, Favre's the all-time leader with 336.
The last bit of perspective in this wild hypothetical—one that disallows for improvement or regression— centers around Kaepernick's rushing yard total. His 7,487 rushing yards would have a chance to be the most rushing yards by a quarterback in league history. (Michael Vick currently leads in that category with a whopping 5,551 career yards on the ground.)
In this alternate, super-theoretical universe, Kaepernick would justifiably be considered one of the greatest QBs ever. Based purely on statistics, that is.
Jumping back to reality, Kaepernick can start to prove Jaworski right by fine-tuning his accuracy. His rocket arm is noticeable, and the touch he displayed in 2012 was extremely impressive. But he averaged a completion percentage of 62.5 in his seven starts last season—not exactly "greatest of all time" worthy. Peyton Manning ended the 2012 campaign with a career completion percentage of 65.2 and Brady's is 63.7.
To be fair though, Kaepernicks' "Accuracy Percentage," a metric developed by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) that measures a quarterback's accuracy with dropped passes and throwaways not included, was 76 in 2012, the seventh-highest in the league
For a quarterback who was thought by many to be a raw passer, Kaepernick's accuracy and decision-making were sound last year. Counting the playoffs, he tossed five total interceptions in 272 attempts, good for a minuscule interception percentage of 1.8 percent.
Checking the record books again, Aaron Rodgers is the currently all-time leader with a 1.7 interception percentage. Interesting. However, Kaep's decisiveness and courage that comes from having a cannon arm cannot save him from ultimately making foolish decisions. He can consult Jay Cutler on the matter, if need be.
Lastly, and the real X-factor in all of this: Kaepernick's legs.
His 181-yard rushing masterpiece against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, and even his seven carries for 62 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens, gave us a quick glimpse of his gazelle-like burst and straight-line speed.
Kaepernick's athleticism and scrambling prowess present the ultimate risk-reward scenario. As of now, it appears Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman won't shy away from using their prized QB on designed runs in the future.
But the perils of being a running quarterback are well documented. If the coaching staff can find an optimal number of carries to regulate Kaepernick with, he should be a stat-sheet filler for many years in a category not normally filled by signal-callers.
Then again, it only takes one play for a significant injury to occur.
We all know Kaepernick has light years to go before he's even considered the best 49ers quarterback of all time, let alone the best in NFL history. But he's shown off a monster arm and has done so with surprising accuracy thus far. He is also relatively poised in the pocket, and there's no doubting he's a special runner.
So, what does Colin Kaepernick have to do to prove Ron Jaworski right? Play almost exactly like he did in seven starts last season for a very long time—something definitely easier said than done.