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San Francisco 49ers: Why Colin Kaepernick Is Having a Great Season

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San Francisco 49ers: Why Colin Kaepernick Is Having a Great Season
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Ask most NFL fans or journalists, and they’ll tell you that Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers is having a letdown season.

Their reasons are various. He can’t adjust to different defensive looks (see the Shakey’s Pizza Watch). He has poor footwork. His numbers are down across the board. The 49ers are at the bottom of the league in passing offense. He doesn’t have enough 200-yard games. He doesn’t have enough 300-yard games. He’s a college quarterback in a pro’s game. He doesn’t score enough fantasy points.

Kap probably laughs about it all, because he can point to the only numbers that really matter from this year: 9-4.

But let’s take a closer look at some of the other numbers, because though fans and journalists will gladly credit quarterbacks for winning playoff games (see: Brady, Tom), they’ll say it’s hopelessly outdated to judge a quarterback by his regular-season wins. And they’re right.

Obviously, Kaepernick is having a down year compared to his 10-game starting stretch last year. They call it a “sophomore slump” for a reason, and this is basically Kaepernick’s sophomore season.

But compare these two quarterbacks:

Quarterback Comparison
Pass Yards Y/A CMP% Pass TD INT Rush Yards Rush TD QBR Rating
Quarterback A 4,374 7.0 54.1% 23 18 255 5 65.0 76.5
Quarterback B 3,061 7.5 57.2% 20 10 501 4 64.3 87.0

pro-football-reference; projections are mine

Quarterback B is Kaepernick with his 2013 numbers projected out to a 16-game season. Quarterback A? Rookie Andrew Luck.

Last year, Luck was a Pro Bowler. He finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Everyone was ready to crown him one of the next great quarterbacks in the NFL, and Rick Reilly of ESPN insisted his rookie season was better than RG3's. But out of the above, which season would you rather have, Luck’s or Kaepernick’s?

Luck threw for a lot more yardage and a few more touchdowns. But he turned the ball over far more often and wasn’t as effective with his legs.

The point is that Kaepernick’s numbers are not that bad. His completion percentage isn't great, and he’s not going to throw for 4,000 yards. Neither is Russell Wilson. Yet his touchdown-to-interception ratio is solid, he’s eighth in the NFL in Total QBR and he’s ninth in yards per pass attempt. Kap’s projected passing yardage total is certainly low. But here’s a news flash: The 49ers don’t pass very much.

As far as sophomore slumps go, posting a 2-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and coming in at No. 8 in the NFL in Total QBR is pretty mild. Kaepernick might slump himself into the Hall of Fame that way.

Kaepernick is still developing. But even while he develops, he’s making big plays (like the crucial third-down conversion against the Seahawks in the fourth quarter Sunday) and winning games. And he still has all the physical tools he displayed in 2012, unlike, say, Robert Griffin III. He’s still fast, strong and tall with immense throwing power. He’ll be back stronger than ever next year.

And all this is without mentioning that this is Kaepernick’s first full season as a starter, that he was missing two of his top four receivers for most of the year and that he’s had a massive target on his back because of all the hype he got over the offseason. Taking that into consideration, he might be performing better than he should be.

And by the way, this year he’s beaten Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and he’s come within four points and a missed call of beating Cam Newton and Drew Brees.

Not that that matters.

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