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Can Colin Kaepernick Rescue a Career that is Trending Downward?

By Chris Malumphy

The career of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been seriously regressing ever since he replaced Alex Smith midway in the 2012 season and led the team to the Super Bowl, ultimately losing to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.

Since then, Kaepernick's quarterback rating has declined each year, reaching a barely pedestrian 78.5 in 2015. His average yards gained per attempt have also declined each season while the percentage of times that he is sacked attempting to pass has risen. The percentage of passes Kaepernick throws for touchdowns has also dropped the past two years while his percentage intercepted, while still good, has generally risen since 2012.

Colin Kaepernick's Career Statistics
YearAttCompPctYdsAvgTDTD
Pct
IntInt
Pct
SackedYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
QB
Rating
RushesYdsAvgTD
20115360.0357.000.000.0000.081.32-2-1.00
201221813662.418148.3104.631.4161126.898.3634156.65
201341624358.431977.7215.081.9392318.691.6925245.74
201447828960.533697.0194.0102.1523449.886.41046396.11
201524414459.016156.662.552.02816610.378.5452565.71

The 49ers and their fans may reasonably question whether the right decision was made in choosing Kaepernick over Smith, despite Smith's known limitations. Smith has had the better quarterback rating every year that Kaepernick has been in the league except for 2013 when Kaepernick edged him out by 2.5 points (91.6 to 89.1). But even in that year, Smith threw more touchdown passes, had fewer interceptions, passed for more yards, and had a lower percentage of being sacked. It would not be unwarranted if the 49ers had some seller's remorse about losing Smith.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Alex Smith
Should the 49ers Have Seller's Remorse?
YearNameTeamAttCompPctYdsAvgTDTD
Pct
IntInt
Pct
SackedYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
QB
Rating
RushesYdsAvgTD
2011Alex Smith49ers44527361.331447.1173.851.1442639.090.7521793.42
2011Colin Kaepernick49ers5360.0357.000.000.0000.081.32-2-1.00
2012Alex Smith49ers21815370.217378.0136.052.3241379.9104.1311324.30
2012Colin Kaepernick49ers21813662.418148.3104.631.4161126.898.3634156.65
2013Colin Kaepernick49ers41624358.431977.7215.081.9392318.691.6925245.74
2013Alex SmithChiefs50830860.633136.5234.571.4392107.189.1764315.71
2014Alex SmithChiefs46430365.332657.0183.961.3452298.893.4492545.21
2014Colin Kaepernick49ers47828960.533697.0194.0102.1523449.886.41046396.11
2015Alex SmithChiefs47030765.334867.4204.371.5452358.795.4844985.92
2015Colin Kaepernick49ers24414459.016156.662.552.02816610.378.5452565.71

The situation became so bad that Kaepernick lost his starting position in 2015. After his prior woes in Jacksonville, who would have thought in a million years that Blaine Gabbert would be named the starter over Kaepernick. And Gabbert outproduced him too, achieving a better completion percentage, a higher quarterback rating, gaining more yards per attempt, throwing more touchdowns, having a higher touchdown percentage, being sacked less frequently, and actually having a better average yards gained when running the football. Yep, Gabbert was better than Kaepernick in 2015. Who would've thunk it.

Colin Kaepernick vs Blaine Gabbert in 2015
NameAttCompPctYdsAvgTDTD
Pct
IntInt
Pct
SackedYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
QB
Rating
RushesYdsAvgTD
Blaine Gabbert28217863.120317.2103.572.5251648.186.2321855.81
Colin Kaepernick24414459.016156.662.552.02816610.378.5452565.71

With his career in a tailspin, it is said that Kaepernick wants out of San Francisco. The question is where would Kaepernick fit. His best bet may have been to the Chip Kelly coached team in Philadelphia. But now Kelly coaches the 49ers and the Eagles seem to have settled in on Sam Bradford as their quarterback.

The Cleveland Browns, a team that is as desperate for a quarterback fix as any franchise can be, don't seem interested, nor should they be. Based on the 2015 statistics, the Browns quarterbacks, even Johnny Manziel, were statistically better this past season. This is the year the Browns take the top quarterback in the NFL Draft, not the year they try to resurrect the career of another flailing 49ers quarterback. They already tried that once with Jeff Garcia and the results were not pretty.

Why the Browns Don't Need/Want 49ers Colin Kaepernick
2015 Passing and Rushing Statistics
Name Team Att Comp Pct Yds Avg TD TD
Pct
Int Int
Pct
Sacked Yds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
QB
Rating
Rushing Yds Avg TD
Josh McCownBrowns29218663.721097.2124.141.4231377.393.320984.91
Johnny ManzielBrowns22312957.815006.773.152.2191417.979.4372306.20
Colin Kaepernick49ers24414459.016156.662.552.02816610.378.5452565.71

Kaepernick's unique skills and recent lack of success make him difficult to fit into any team's plans in a significant way. He needs an offense that is designed to take advantage of his running prowess, toughness and ability to air the ball out. Unless some team wants to bet the boat on his play improving, they'd also need another quarterback with at least somewhat similar skills, else they might not only need to change quarterbacks in midseason, but perhaps an entire offensive scheme. During a time like these when general managers and coaches can no longer count on having even two seasons to run the show, few will make that kind of bet if there are other alternatives, even when the potential ceiling is high. And it is doubtful that Kaepernick will want to sign with a team as a backup at this point in his career.

The Los Angeles Rams (fancy saying that again after all these years) are in dire need of improved play at quarterback, but coach Jeff Fisher generally runs a pretty bland offense. Kaepernick might not be the best fit, although it may be the greatest opportunity. The Houston Texans also need to upgrade the quarterback position. Brian Hoyer is a decent player, but is probably not the long term answer. Until now, however, coach Texans coach Bill O'Brien has worked mostly with pocket passers. New York Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey coaxed a surprisingly good season out of Ryan Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald tends to throw a fair amount of interceptions at just the wrong time and may not be the answer for a team that appears to be on the cusp of better things. In contrast, Kaepernick has tended to throw few interceptions throughout his career. Gailey has made nearly every quarterback he has worked with a bit better. Maybe he could do the same with Kaepernick.

For out-of-the-box thinking, consider the Buffalo Bills. Coach Rex Ryan is definitely an out-of-the-box thinker. In 2015 he unexpectedly turned the quarterback reins over to Tyrod Taylor who had a very nice season. The question in Buffalo is whether Taylor is the real thing or just a decent player who put up some good numbers. If there is any doubt, signing Kaepernick might be a way to create competition between two players who have similar skills. And if injury befalls the eventual starter, the team won't need to make many adjustments when the other player takes over.

In any case, where Colin Kaepernick ultimately lands will be one of the most interesting stories of this off season. He has shown he can be an exciting player. If he can get and remain healthy and find the right situation the sky is the limit, he has already shown that he can lead a team deep into the playoffs. That in itself may be worth taking a risk on.

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