With the San Francisco 49ers starting at a bumpy 3-2 and the Alex Smith-led Kansas City Chiefs roaring out of the gate at 5-0, wide-spread panic has overtaken San Francisco. Many are now questioning whether the 49ers made a mistake in hitching their wagon to Colin Kaepernick and trading Smith.
Calm your horses, everyone. The change was a good one when it happened last season, and it’s still a good one now.
Premature reactions have plagued sports fans for years, and it appears as though that disease has now inflicted San Francisco. Has Kap been everything we thought he would be? No, not yet. Has Smith exceeded expectations so far? Well, yeah, he has.
That is precisely the reason, however, why the 49ers have nothing to worry about. Expectations are set for a reason, and the reason that Kaepernick’s were so much higher has been made abundantly clear: He’s the better player.
When looking at the raw material, it’s a wonder that Kaepernick is struggling the way he is. He’s one of, if not the most, athletically gifted quarterbacks in the league, flashing enough potential to earn the highest of praise from ESPN’s Ron Jaworski.
He runs like a gazelle, throws the ball as if it’s launched from a rocket and is as graceful as a cat. He can one day be the most devastating force in the league if used properly.
Smith, for everything he brings to his team, just doesn’t have that upside. He’ll always be a good quarterback, but never a great one. He has a brilliant mind, but it’s paired with average skills. He’s quick but not fast, accurate but not strong-armed.
For all the acclaim that ESPN has thrown his way, the term "game-manager" will never be associated with a truly elite quarterback. The Chiefs, like the 49ers before them, win with Smith, not because of him.
I’ve used this analogy before, and I’ll use it again now: Smith is like a Prius—smart, decent looking and dependable. You know what you’re getting from him, and for the most part, it’s good.
Kaepernick, however,is a Ferrari. Excessively fast and at times dangerous, he’s a thrill-ride every step of the way.
The Prius might get you to where you want to go eventually, but that Ferrari has record-breaking potential. If safety is what you want, Smith is your man. Just know, though, safety and greatness rarely go hand-in-hand. For those with visions of grandeur, ride it out with Kaepernick and you might one day see things you’ve never seen before.
Strength of Schedule
It’s easy to look at the records and automatically assume that Smith has been the superior quarterback. If you’re really that shortsighted, however, football might not be your game.
Let’s take a quick look at the teams each quarterback has played this season, and then we can draw a conclusion.
To date, Kaepernick has drawn the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks in the cruelest environment football has to offer, a much-better-than-we-all-thought Indianapolis Colts team, a cupcake in the form of the St. Louis Rams and a preseason Super Bowl contender in the Houston Texans.
That’s a murderers' row to start the year.
Smith, however, has run the underwhelming gauntlet consisting of quite possibly the worst team we’ve ever seen in the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like Dallas Cowboys, the “revolutionary” Philadelphia Eagles, the “You can’t spell elite without Eli” New York Giants and a team that lost their starting quarterback earlier in the season, the Tennessee Titans.
In other words, they haven’t played anyone yet.
If you’re scoring at home, the combined record of the teams Kaepernick has faced is 14-10, while Smith and the Chiefs have beat five teams with a combined 7-18 record.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Let’s face it, a quarterback can only do so much with what he’s given. And quite frankly, Kaepernick wasn’t given much of a receiving corps at all.
Boldin has been stellar so far this year, we’ll give him that. But he’s just not a No. 1 option at this stage of his career. And the “receivers” after him? Well, they might have a hard time cracking the Jaguars roster. Is it really a surprise at all that Kap has struggled early?
Smith and the Chiefs haven’t had to deal with crucial injuries yet, and combined with their cupcake schedule, anything less than a 5-0 start should have been considered a disappointment.
Crabtree is still recovering from his Achilles injury but a return in mid-November is probable, also courtesy of David Fucillo.
The time to panic isn’t now. Injuries have plagued the 49ers, but reinforcements are set to arrive soon. Only then can we truly evaluate Kaepernick. Until then, 49ers fans, keep calm.
Smith is winning more now, but we’ve yet to see him tested. Kaepernick has endured a rigorous schedule, and with such a depleted roster, 3-2 doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Once the components are all together, I expect we’ll see a much more prolific version of the San Francisco quarterback.
Be patient, 49ers fans. The best is yet to come.