He doesn’t have the pocket awareness or accuracy to succeed at the next level.
He can’t get past his first read and struggles with complex defensive schemes.
These are just a few of the knocks we heard about Colin Kaepernick when the San Francisco 49ers made him a second-round pick back in the 2011 NFL draft. For the old-school scouts, it was more about seeing someone go against the grain of the prototypical drop-back passer and capture the attention of front offices around the league leading up to the draft. They just couldn’t possibly believe that decades of scouting could be turned on its head due to this new-breed of quarterback.
These were the very same scouts that had an issue with the Carolina Panthers selecting Cam Newton No. 1 overall in that draft. No, it wasn’t about skin color for them. It was about the understanding, or lack thereof, that this new generation of quarterbacks could break from the mold.
Heck, I was even guilty of this.
The scouting reports leading up to the 2011 draft may have varied, but there were a ton of common themes.
NFL.com filed the following report immediately prior to the ’11 draft:
Kaepernick has enough physical tools to be viewed as a developmental backup quarterback prospect. Experienced, competitive, productive and durable but very raw in terms of making NFL reads and throws. Will need to become accustomed to making pro-style progressions and must improve overall accuracy.
Arm strength is good but needs to tighten up his delivery and work on getting the ball out on time with more consistency. Can make a lot of plays with his feet but will be too confident at times and take unnecessary sacks.
“developmental backup quarterback.” That is a wide-ranging term that could mean a whole heck of a lot of different things. Developmental as in he might turn out to be a good quarterback one day? Maybe developmental in the form of a Tim Tebow? Not exactly sure what that was supposed to mean.
“Very raw in terms of making NFL reads.” Was this because he played in the pistol offense at Nevada? It’s the idea that because someone hasn’t been asked to do something before, it’s reasonable to believe he can’t.
That’s just one example of a “scout” using hyperbole in order to fill words onto a parchment for page clicks. There was no real analysis here, nor was there any concrete evidence that Kaepernick’s game wouldn’t translate to the next level.
Once we viewed Kaepernick in his initial preseason with the San Francisco 49ers back in 2011, a lot of these criticisms seemed warranted. He struggled making specific reads, seemed lost in the pocket and lacked accuracy.
Maybe this is where the term “developmental quarterback” came in. It was readily apparent from day one that Kaepernick wasn’t anywhere near ready to see action as a rookie for San Francisco. Sitting on the bench and learning from Jim Harbaugh as well as starting quarterback Alex Smith in 2011, something seemed to click for the young quarterback. He spent the entire offseason after his rookie campaign working on accuracy and technique concerns.
Once Kaepernick took the field during the 2012 preseason as a sophomore, there were marked improvements. He seemed to be more accurate on the intermediate routes and did a solid job with pocket awareness as well as progressing past his initial read.
Still, he didn’t seem to be quite there yet.
Fast forward to October of last season. Once Smith went out with an injury against the St. Louis Rams, Kaepernick was called into duty and never gave up the job again. I remember tweeting out something to the effect, and I am paraphrasing here “if Smith is out, there goes the 49ers Super Bowl chances.”
See, I wasn’t anywhere near as sold on Kaepernick as some today might think I was.
I wasn’t alone…
Many critics took to the airwaves on the radio, the television screens in our homes and to the computer on the Internet to display some sort of criticism directed at Kaepernick’s ability to lead San Francisco’s offense if Smith was out for an extended period of time.
Once it became clear, especially after his solid performance against the Chicago Bears the following week, that Harbaugh was hellbent on sticking with the young quarterback over Smith, even more criticism was directed out west.
Only this time, it was directed at the head coach; not the quarterback.
Even former 49ers’ quarterback Jeff Garcia chimed in on the situation, mostly looking at it from a fairness standpoint…
Most coaches would have put Alex Smith back in as the starting quarterback as soon as he got over his concussion symptoms. He would have been put back in the starting position because he’s earned it. He’s done the necessary things from a consistency standpoint to be that guy, especially from the outside looking in.
We all know how the remainder of the 2012 season played out for Kaepernick and the 49ers after the loss to St. Louis on the road. They were a couple questionable calls and a bad play or two away from capturing their sixth Lombardi Trophy in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. Pure conjecture here, but it is my belief that San Francisco wouldn’t have gotten that far if Kaepernick was still on the sideline holding a clipboard. In fact, he was a primary reason they won the NFC.
Still, the young man couldn’t hide from what would be an onslaught of criticism this past offseason.
From shots at him about his relationship with his birth mother to ignorant remarks about the tattoos he displayed, people still found a way to criticize the quarterback off the field. However, disconcerting this might have been, the criticism about his on-field performance might have struck a cord with those of us who quickly became fans.
Though, these off-field attacks seemed to represent nothing more than a racial double standard around the football world. Placing a young kid under a microscope simply because of the success that he had early in his career.
Rick Reilly’s January article on ESPN.com titled “A Call Kaepernick Should Make” was a prime example of this. Simply because his own daughter was adopted, Reilly seems to believe that he has the right to give Kaepernick advice in a public platform:
The Kaepernicks have told Colin they’d have no problem with him speaking to Russo (birth mother). They even met with her recently without Colin. But Colin hasn’t budged on the issue. One of his friends told Yahoo! Sports that Colin would think it’s “treasonous” to meet with Russo.
But it’s not. It’s healthy. It’s healing. It’s natural.
Does Reilly know Kaepernick’s personal situation? If so, what does he have to do with it? Far be it for anyone to tell the young man what is healthy and natural in his “relationship” with his birth mother. Besides this being completely out of the realm of professional journalism, it failed to show any type of class and tact.
Earlier in the article, Reilly wrote…
The 49ers’ 25-year-old starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is adopted, too. I wonder if he sometimes feels for the woman who gave him up, who didn’t get the joy of knowing him and raising him.
No, Kaepernick is an unfeeling stooge. He’s just a football player who lives and breathes the pigskin 24/7. He has no life outside of football and was made in a factory in Canton, Ohio. Again, Reilly assumes that his public opinion of a private matter sheds light on the Kaepernick situation. He must be one arrogant individual.
Back in November of 2012, David Whitley of The Sporting News wrote an article about Kaepernick’s tattoos that seemed to be more of an attack on his race and personality than anything else. The article started…
Approximately 98.7 percent of the inmates at California’s state prison have tattoos. I don’t know that as fact, but I’ve watched enough “Lockup” to know it’s close to accurate.
We should have stopped reading there, right? After all, the shock effect of the opening sentence which seemed to be vying for page clicks, seemingly compared Kaepernick to inmates in the largest prison population in the United States. This despite the fact that Kaepernick has never been in trouble, that he’s been clean off the field and comes from a great upbringing in California itself.
Whitley didn’t stop there…
No, whitley they didn’t and they don’t. By the way, nice attempt to save face by throwing one African-American into the conversation. Kaepernick possessing religious tattoos means that he can’t be the face of the National Football League, right? He’s a thug. He’s a felon. Heck, he’s the lowest common denominator of the league, right?
Unknowingly, Whitley showed even more racial ignorance later in the article…
Way to compare Kaepernick to to individuals who have had off-field problems. Because all three are African-American and are inked up, they are similar individuals. Again, the media showing that arrogance of ignorant thoughts can receive a tremendous amount of play on the Internet. After all, Whitley’s article received over 1,300 comments and was retweeted nearly 2,000 times.
If you can get page clicks by ignorantly attacking a football player, why not do it? Conducting such a ridiculously shortsighted article may impact your credibility as a legitimate journalist, but you received the necessary page clicks to offer to the powers to be. Congratulations.
Following the 2012 season, Kaepernick continued to be on the receiving end of unjustified attacks. From questions about his character after being featured on the cover of ESPN’s Body Magazine to a backlash from fans for wearing a Miami Dolphins hat in South Beach (imagine that) Kaepernick simply couldn’t steer clear of controversy. All the while, he was honing his craft, working his ass off and doing great charitable and community work around the country.
He wears a Dolphins hat, so he isn’t a committed member of the San Francisco 49ers. He poses on the cover of ESPN’s annual body magazine, so he surely can’t be a role model for children. Yes, that’s pretty much the definition of silly news when writers have nothing else to write about.
On the field, criticism continued…
Despite putting up 1,162 yards and seven touchdowns compared to two interceptions in the postseason and nearly leading San Francisco to the largest comeback in Super Bowl history (after seven regular season starts), Kaepernick’s performance was questioned by mainstream experts across the football world.
From indicating that he needs to show he has it upstairs on the field to questions about his ability to read defenses, unfounded skepticism seemed to follow Kaepernick at nearly every turn leading up to the 2013 season. Despite possessing a better SAT score and GPA in college than the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck, some thought it made sense to question his intelligence. While I won’t even come close to questioning the smarts of those two aforementioned quarterbacks, that’s precisely the point. After all, have you heard anyone question whether Rodgers or Luck have the smarts to succeed in the NFL? I mean, they did graduate from Stanford and CAL respectively. Kaepernick went to lowly Nevada-Reno and grew up in Turlock, California. He has tattoos on his body and doesn’t fit the mold of his predecessors in San Francisco. Therefore, he’s simply not smart enough to succeed in the NFL.
Those idiotic questions, while unfounded, received a lot of play in the media during the spring and summer months.
It seems that not a single one of these skeptics have ever heard Kaepernick being interviewed or even have one ounce of working knowledge as it relates to him as a person on and off the field.
But, the questions received a lot of play around the media world.
Again, page clicks. Sacrificing journalistic integrity to look good in the mind of your boss. Yes, this is the sad state of the sports journalism community wrapped up in one finely tuned example.
Once Kaepernick opened the 2013 season with a 412-yard, three-touchdown game in San Francisco’s 34-28 victory in Sunday, it was easy to draw the conclusion that this ignorant criticism would be left behind the backdoor.
San Francisco ran less than one handful of designed read-option plays against Green Bay on Sunday. Instead, it relied on Kaepernick’s arm strength and accuracy to get it done. The young quarterback responded by putting up just the fifth 400-yard, three touchdown, zero interception performance on opening day in the Super Bowl era. It was also the best performance for a 49ers’ quarterback on opening day in the history of the franchise.
For those of us who have a working knowledge of how he performed in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, this wasn’t a huge surprise. After all, Kaepernick had one designed run against the Falcons and just three against the Baltimore Ravens. He was still able to shred apart their defenses because of improved accuracy and a cannon of an arm.
One would think that this performance has quieted critics. Well, that’s a pie in the sky mentality. When skeptics couldn’t attack Kaepernick’s on-field performance, they turned their attention to perceived off-field issues. When these off-field issues were muted by the mainstream press, once again they attacked his ability to play at an elite level in the NFL.
Despite a record performance on Sunday, this didn’t change… As evidenced by multiple tweets sent out immediately following Sunday’s game.
He went up against less than stellar competition.
Wait until he plays a real secondary.
He had too many open windows and receivers.
Teams will plan against the pass and adjust accordingly.
These were just a couple of the quotes that I read through as Sunday’s game came to a conclusion.
Sure, Green Bay doesn’t possess the best secondary in the world. Sure, going up against the Seattle Seahawks in the Pacific Northwest next Sunday night may prove to be more difficult. Sure, teams will now have to prepare against the drop back.
None of that really matters.
Over the course of his last eight games, postseason included, Kaepernick has put up 2,400-plus total yards with 18 touchdowns compared to four interceptions. He went into New England and defeated a Tom Brady-led group in December, a feat that has been accomplished only three times during Brady’s tenure with the Patriots. He led San Francisco from a 17-0 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game in what was his first career road playoff start. He nearly orchestrated the best comeback in the history of the Super Bowl before coming up just a few yards short. He broke the NFL single-game rushing record for a quarterback in his initial postseason start against Green Bay.
He then went toe to toe with the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off the best two-year stretch in the history of the league.
Overall, Kaepernick has defeated the likes of Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers (twice) and Drew Brees in just 11 career starts.
In this, the young quarterback has proven he is among the best quarterbacks in the entire league. He has done this despite all the criticism directed his way. He has done so despite only having less than a full season of starting experience under his belt.
Kaepernick’s Week 1 performance against the Packers may go down as the day that critics were silenced. A day that some look at themselves in the mirror and said “I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
Heck, my initial take on Kaepernick starting in lieu of Alex Smith last October was about as foolish of a statement that an analyst could make.
At least I learned from my mistakes and decided that crow actually tasted good.
Can you do the same? If not, you will be left in the dustbin of history as Kaepernick and others redefine how the quarterback position is played in the NFL.
Don’t be that person. Ignore others who attempt to tear someone down because he’s more successful in life than they are. Ignore the ignorance of individuals who believe that change is an unnatural force. Instead, embrace this new type of player and individual.
After all, it is the future of the NFL… As is Kaepernick.
Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle every Friday. He’s also a former league-wide featured columnist at Bleacher Report.