Why Colin Kaepernick Has Been Reduced to 49ers' Least Valuable Offensive Player

Joe Levitt@jlevitt16Contributor IIIDecember 10, 2014

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was once a positive influence on Colin Kaepernick. That hasn't always been the case in 2014.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was once a positive influence on Colin Kaepernick. That hasn't always been the case in 2014.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

For reasons more than just the obvious, Colin Kaepernick has been the San Francisco 49ers’ least valuable offensive player in 2014.

And it isn’t all his fault.

As bad as he has played the past two weeks, this goes beyond Kaepernick’s awful showings against the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders.

Quarterback is undoubtedly the most challenging, dependent and important position in the game of football, if not among all professional sports.

It brings the most pressure, scrutiny and responsibility for wins and losses, regardless if the man fulfilling said role is complicit in the outcome or not.

Saying that the 49ers’ man under center brings the least value at that vital offensive position, while scathing and controversial, is certainly reasonable.

Colin Kaepernick's 2012-14 Stats
QBRPasser RatingPFF Rating
201272.298.311.9
201368.691.65.2
201452.285.1-13.5
Courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Focus

Kaepernick has not thrown a single touchdown in the fourth quarter and is Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 31st-ranked quarterback out of the 40 who qualified.

He isn’t much better in traditional metrics, either, owning the No. 22 QBR and No. 23 passer rating among the 34 ranked in the NFL.

But statistics don’t fully convey why Kaepernick has been so ineffective this year.

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It’s stats and the eye test—the more rudimentary, yet revealing measure of a quarterback’s performance—that help complete the real picture of No. 7.

His guarded nature before games, wavering performances during them and sullen disposition in postgame pressers reveal a more insidious and alarming development:

Bad body language on the field has been a constant for Kaepernick in 2014.
Bad body language on the field has been a constant for Kaepernick in 2014.Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Colin Kaepernick is a failed experiment at fitting a round peg in a square hole.

He is the sad manifestation of when a coaching staff tries to mold a player into a rigid system instead of adapting the system around the player’s unique skill set.

And he is the unfortunate byproduct of a dysfunctional organization when it comes to communicating with the media.

Yes, the likes of 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, head coach Jim Harbaugh, general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York are all on blast.

The same leadership that has guided this team to three straight NFC Championship Games, a near Super Bowl win and a tremendous new stadium are primarily responsible for Kaepernick’s stunted growth.

Let’s analyze why.

One-Dimensional on the Field…

Kaepernick has been sacked a league-worst 43 times this season.
Kaepernick has been sacked a league-worst 43 times this season.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Kaepernick can no longer utilize his unrivaled abilities as a dual-threat on the field.

Well, it’s not that he’s unable; it’s because he isn’t allowed.

Harbaugh and Roman have instilled a pocket-passer-or-bust mentality that’s resulted in eight games with an ill-fitting 30-plus passing attempts, zero games with a rushing touchdown and a season’s worth of indecisive execution.

An increase of 26 to 31.5 throws per contest and decrease of 8.6 to 7.9 yards per scramble from last season, not to mention a career-worst 10 interceptions (and counting), speak to that latter point.

Kap can’t even escape the pocket effectively due to his overloaded mind and clouded judgment. He instead coughs up multiple interceptions in consecutive games for the first time in his career, no surprise in back-to-back Niners losses.

He’s been stripped of his dynamic identity—the same one that’s produced nine rushing scores in the regular season, another four in the playoffs and a career playoff QBR of 82.5.

Say goodbye to the days of lethal zone-read play-calling and game-breaking production on the ground from No. 7.

Instead of easily escaping would-be sack-artists as in years past, Kaepernick has been eaten alive routinely by said sack-artists in 2014.
Instead of easily escaping would-be sack-artists as in years past, Kaepernick has been eaten alive routinely by said sack-artists in 2014.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

That predictable approach has produced the sixth-worst passer rating on play-action throws and fifth-lowest accuracy percentage on passes of 20 or more yards downfield.

Those numbers came out to fourth-best and fifth-highest, respectively, in 2013, all per PFF.

As a result, Kaepernick has often served as the losing—and not winning—catalyst for this underachieving 49ers team.

Four turnovers versus the lowly Chicago Bears and a goal-line fumble at home against the St. Louis Rams in Week 9 join the past two weeks as four examples of Kap’s crippling effect when forced into a one-dimensional, pass-first entity for San Francisco.

Inconsistent game plans, an abandoned rushing attack and general chaos on offense has reduced the 4-2 playoff quarterback with 10 game-winning drives to a mere a shell of himself.

Regrettably, things don’t get any better away from the gridiron.

…Zero Dimensions off the Field

Niners fans can get past the hat and headphones that Kaepernick sports in postgame pressers. But as for the 2.7-word responses, not so much.
Niners fans can get past the hat and headphones that Kaepernick sports in postgame pressers. But as for the 2.7-word responses, not so much.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The once-motivating chip on Kaepernick’s shoulder has been allowed to fester to unwieldy, disrespectful and downright ugly proportions.

A young man that came into the league as an affable and refreshing interview subject with reporters has now become an unsightly reflection of his surly head coach.

Kap averaged just 2.7 words per response to 32 questions in a media session following San Francisco’s loss to the Seahawks. He repeated that unacceptably rude and churlish behavior after the 49ers’ collapse against their Bay Area rival on Dec. 7.

Such conduct is both unprofessional and unbecoming from the player-CEO of an NFL squad.

Far worse, however, is the complete lack of organizational leadership in helping this 27-year-old overcome these blatant struggles both on and off the field.

It comes down to the denial and unaccountability instilled by both Harbaugh and Baalke.

“No, I haven’t noticed any fundamental flaws,” Harbaugh said Monday following the 49ers’ latest defeat, via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.

Refuting the notion of any deficiency and attributing Kaepernick’s poor play to a mere “rough patch” is insulting to anyone with two eyes and the ability to see.

The same goes for labeling Kap as “great with a capital G” after his lackluster outing in a last-minute win over the sorry Washington Redskins.

A head coach providing unwavering support for his quarterback is one thing.

But it’s something else entirely when the former treats the media with utter disdain, enabling the latter to emulate that arrogant, dense and immature behavior.

The once dynamic quarterback-head coach duo of Kaepernick and Harbaugh has been anything but in this conflict-riddled 2014 season.
The once dynamic quarterback-head coach duo of Kaepernick and Harbaugh has been anything but in this conflict-riddled 2014 season.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Check out the following exchange between Harbaugh and KNBR 680’s Brian Murphy.

“We hear from a ton of listeners and fans who are insulted by [Kap] not giving his all in the postgame,” said Murphy, via CSN Bay Area. “Can you see their point of view?”

“I see the point of view he wasn’t chatty,” Harbaugh replied. “That was last Friday. And I really don’t want to have the conversation. [I’d rather] move on with my day.”

The interview ended.

Really, Jim?

When Kaepernick offers empty responses like, “We didn’t play well” or “I need to play better”—with a defiant scowl on his face, mind you—he embodies the same petulant demeanor as Harbaugh.

That only works when a team is winning, and not after losing to an historically bad opponent.

The negative influences continue higher up the food chain.

The sight of Trent Baalke (left) and Harbaugh in the same vicinity is a nonexistent phenomenon in 49ers land these days.
The sight of Trent Baalke (left) and Harbaugh in the same vicinity is a nonexistent phenomenon in 49ers land these days.Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

In his weekly radio appearance with Damon Bruce on 95.7 The Game, Baalke dismissed reports of tension between he and Harbaugh as mere “fabrication,” per Cam Inman on his Mercurynews.com blog.

Seriously, Trent? The media is making all this stuff up?

The time for halfhearted deflection ended long ago.

And when asked about Kaepernick’s taciturn press conferences, he said, rather unconvincingly, “We’ve addressed it with him, like we do all our players.”

So, why has he shown absolutely zero sign of tailoring his postgame conduct to a level appropriate of an NFL quarterback?

Hint: It doesn’t involve any willful insubordination.

Football Culture Turned Bad—For Now

Harbaugh and 49ers CEO Jed York aren't likely on the most amicable of terms in light of failed contract negotiations dating back to Super Bowl XLVII.
Harbaugh and 49ers CEO Jed York aren't likely on the most amicable of terms in light of failed contract negotiations dating back to Super Bowl XLVII.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Rhetorical question notwithstanding, it’s because the culture in which Kaepernick operates hasn’t fostered such a change.

It’s one where the general manager and head coach stand irrevocably apart, where the usually tactful CEO needlessly apologizes to fans on Twitter and where the entire leadership structure cannot coexist in a functional manner.

The same front office that hired the coaching staff that, in turn, helped develop a much-maligned Alex Smith into a playoff winner and Kaepernick into a near Super Bowl champion, has relegated one of the most feared assets into one of the most easily defensed.

A once thorough and articulate interviewee now offers just a handful of contemptuous words during extended appearances with the media.

In short, the 49ers’ offensive MVP has been shaped into their LVP—both as a contributor and leader on and off the field.

Now, is it all gloom and doom for Kaepernick and Co. moving forward?

Certainly not.

Kap is playing in just his second year as a full-time starter and fourth season overall. He will emerge from this identity crisis and return to form as a winning dual-threat when given the chance.

Even though the 49ers are all but eliminated from playoff contention in 2014, a trip back to January football should materialize next season as well.

But it can only happen with a new offensive staff guiding the Red and Gold.

All team and player statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN unless otherwise noted. Advanced metrics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

 

Joe Levitt is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, waxing academic, colloquial and statistical eloquence on the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him on Twitter @jlevitt16

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