Colin Kaepernick is a quality NFL quarterback.
The statement above is almost universally accepted, and frankly, it is nearly indisputable. The 26-year-old Kaepernick just completed his first full season as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, and he responded by leading the team to an appearance in the NFC Championship game, where they lost a heated battle to their chief rival, the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Kaepernick was in the headlines during the 2014 off-season for a couple of reasons, but chief among them (in a world where his off-field issues were quickly dismissed) was the fact that he inked a contract extension that could be worth up to $126 million. In the NFL, contracts almost never actually materialize to their full value, but even in a world where he is guaranteed somewhere in the neighborhood of $61 million (depending on who you ask), there has been an understandable amount of intrigue as to the massive figures surrounding Kaepernick’s extension. The big question, however, is whether Kaepernick’s skill set and talent level mesh with performance to justify this type of deal.
The numbers indicate that they probably don’t… yet.
At 26 years old (Kaepernick will be 27 by the middle of the 2014 season), he finished thirty-first among qualified players in the NFL in completion percentage. Yes, that is only a singular metric, but if the 49ers were somehow “guaranteed” that the 2013 edition of Kaepernick would persist throughout the full length of the contract, it would set an ominous tone.
Of course, there is plenty more to Kaepernick’s game than simply being an accurate passer, and a few of the supporting metrics place him among the game’s better quarterbacks, if not fully into the elite. For the season, Colin Kaepernick finished 10th among qualified QB’s in quarterback rating (91.6), fourth in rushing yards (524), and in the top third of all starting quarterbacks in interceptions with only 8 in 416 passing attempts.
However, in a passing driven league, it is important to remember that a) Kaepernick actually regressed as a passer in his second season (first full season), and b) his legs don’t save him nearly as often as most people would presume. His passing arsenal has never been terribly polished (and the throwing motion likely doesn’t help), but after his “breakout” campaign in which he took over for Alex Smith mid-season in 2012 by completing passes at a 62.4% clip, Kaepernick’s efficiency dipped considerably. On the bright side for San Francisco, Kaepernick’s connections often result in big plays, with 13.2 yards per completion ranking number two in the NFL for the 2013 campaign.
The former Nevada Wolfpack signal caller took 39 sacks last season, which was good for 11th-most in the NFL, and for all the (justified) hype surrounding his effectiveness as a rusher dating back to the 2013 NFL Playoffs, Kaepernick attempted only 92 rushes in 16 regular season games last season. Simply put, he is an incredible weapon on the ground (just ask any long-time fan of the Green Bay Packers), but Jim Harbaugh and company seem to be making a concerted effort to “save the bullets” in his legs, and after the big-time contract kicks in, it is a safe bet to envision that maintenance program ramping up in full force.
If there is a true endorsement (other than the contract itself) of Kaepernick’s recent play coupled with his ceiling as a player, it comes in the form of ESPN’s famed QBR statistic. There are several experts who have come down on either side of QBR as a statistic for measuring overall competence at the quarterback position, but it hasn’t vaulted past QB ratings as the easiest and most accepted “all-encompassing” look, and it treats Colin Kaepernick favorably.
Last season, the still-young Kaepernick finished seventh in the NFL in QBR (68.6), and that number placed him ahead of such stalwarts as Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and even wunderkind Andrew Luck. There is a lot to dive in to with the QBR statistic, but any overarching metric that places a young player among some of the league’s best is encouraging, and when it comes with back-to-back top-10 finishes for a player with somewhat limited receiving weapons, it is exceedingly positive.
Lastly, Kaepernick’s contract is incredibly interesting. As referenced above, the contract is incredibly interesting. On the surface, it appears that he is guaranteed $61 million, but pundits have combed through the details to uncover that the number is closer to $13 million with realistic benchmarks to line Kaepernick’s pockets. Either way, the contract is universally accepted as “team-friendly” despite the high contract number, and for a player who is still in the “prove it” part of his young career, that is both appropriate and realistic from an incredibly smart organization.
Colin Kaepernick is most certainly a quality NFL player at this point, and with his raw reputation, both in college and as a young professional, there is a reasonable view that would indicate he can grow as a player. Is he “worth” $61 million in guaranteed money right now? Probably not, but with a squint, it is easy to see that coming to fruition, and the Niners have fastened themselves to the parachute if things go south.
It’s a win-win.