This week the San Francisco 49ers will host the Carolina Panthers in a game that will feature two quarterbacks that are of a different mold. It is the much awaited game in which Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton will take the field at the same time for the first time as professionals. Cam Newton was the number one overall pick in the 2011 draft while Colin Kaepernick was selected 36th. Both of these quarterbacks possess a very rare blend of size, speed and downfield throwing accuracy. They even roomed with each other during the NFL combine in 2011. There have been many polls that rank Kaepernick ahead of Newton, but the gap between the two is not great. Selecting between these two quarterbacks is the equivalent of selecting a Benz or a BMW.
Jim Harbaugh ended up selecting Kaepernick after the 49ers traded up to be in position to do so. He did however, characterize both Newton and Kaepernick as “plutonium-grade raw material.” This is a great endorsement from a guy that is known as the QB whisperer. Harbaugh wanted a raw quarterback such as these two signal callers because it will allow him to mold them into a passer that will fit his system and play the position the way that he envisions it being played. This is very much like a computer geek who builds his own computer to his exact specifications.
It is very clear what Harbaugh thinks of Kaepernick but take a look at what he has said about Newton; “(He) continues to grow and blossom into a top-shelf quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “My father-in-law, Merrill Feuerborn, was adamant that Cam Newton was the, we had to get Cam Newton and he was the future of the NFL. You’ve got to give him credit, I mean, he saw that. He saw some things in Cam Newton, which we all did. But, I think all the football world saw at that time and we weren’t in a position to pick him. He’s been a great addition to the league and to the Carolina Panthers, he’s a great player.”
Harbaugh talked before about how his father, a football coach as well, called him and raved about Kaepernick. “My father, Jack Harbaugh, was championing Colin Kaepernick,” Harbaugh said. The 49ers knew that they were going to get their guy after the Cincinnatti Bengals drafted Andy Dalton with the 35th overall selection. Harbaugh and Trent Baalke wasted no time moving up to the 36th pick and selecting their prized prospect.
It was a matter of time before Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith. In the meantime, Cam Newton was lighting up the league, setting rookie passing records. Gil Brandt, one of the best scouting minds ever, spoke to me on many occasions about how Cam was the rare quarterback that got even more accurate as he threw the ball deeper. He told me that his deep ball accuracy was the best in the draft.
Conversely, Greg Cosell predicted that Colin Kaepernick will be one of the best quarterbacks in the draft in a few years. He said that he had all of the ability that Cam Newton possessed. Cosell felt that Kaepernick was the most athletic quarterback out of all of the signal callers in the 2011 draft. His opinion was not a popular one, but he was definitely on to something.
Newton ranks eighth in the NFL with a passer rating of 93.1. Kaepernick ranks 16th at 87.6. Newton has a completion percentage of 64.4, compared to 57.1 for Kaepernick. Newton ranks No. 1 in third-down passing with a rating of 120.4. Kaepernick is fourth at 101.2. Newton is averaging 225.1 yards passing and 31.4 yards rushing. Kaepernick is averaging 198.0 and 36.8.
To many, Newton and Kaepernick are very similar. If you ask Newton, he will tell you differently. “I don’t want to compare myself to Kaepernick,” Newton said. “He’s an explosive player, don’t get me wrong. But he does things that I can’t do and I try to simulate some things that he does. I’m pretty sure our games are somewhat different in a lot of aspects.”
Kaepernick saw a few likenesses between he and Newton. “Yes, we have similarities,” Kaepernick. “We’re both big, both fast, both can throw the ball well, have the opportunity to make plays for our offense.” The two quarterbacks are similar in stature. Newton is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. Kaepernick is 6-foot-4, 240.
Jeff Chadiha one of the ESPN Insiders interviewed panel of twelve people who have been around this current group of young quarterbacks and around some great quarterbacks in the past. The panel was from backgrounds that include playing, coaching, scouting and front-office responsibilities. They came up with criteria for determining the long-term success of young quarterbacks. We will take a look at what they said about Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick exclusively. If you want to read the full ratings of the five quarterbacks you can do so here: How Do Young QBs Become Great?
The first category that they looked at was intelligence. One AFC quarterbacks coach said “Cam Newton can’t fix protection [schemes] on his own.” Former NFL quarterback, Trent Dilfer said, “Kaepernick is still in the early stages of his development. I’ve told Colin this already, but he’s playing remedial football over there. He sees five coverages a game where Tom Brady sees five coverages in his first six snaps.” Neither of these quarterbacks got a ringing endorsement in the intelligence category.
Louis Riddick, although not on the panel, is an ESPN Insider and he spoke highly of Kaepernick’s football intelligence. “With Colin, I think you get the intelligence and ability to handle volume as far as the amount you can put on him mentally that gives you a lot of options week to week game-plan wise as well, with the difference being that he is willing to take more chances at pushing the ball vertically down the field, and not being so quick to simply take sacks or take off every time the read isn’t clean initially.”
Next, they examined their accuracy. George Whitfield is credited with working with many of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has worked with Cam Newton among others. He spoke about Kaepernick and said; “He needs more touch,” Whitfield said. “Once he gets that, he’ll be unstoppable because he’s been beating people with a fastball and fast feet. When you see him dropping the ball into receivers in the middle of coverage, that’s when his game will go to another level.” Cam Newton has raised his completion percentage from 57.7% in 2012 to 64.4% in 2013. He has done so without his average per completion dropping significantly. It only dropped from 7.98 yards per attempt to 7.54. This means that he has gotten more accurate as a passer and not by checking down.
The jury is still out on who is the better quarterback. Both of these players are big and athletic guys that are rare talents. There are surely things that they both need to work on. Newton has the Panthers on a four game win streak. Kaepernick has the 49ers on a five game win streak. Both of these players have strong running games and shutdown defenses. This has surely helped them develop into the extra efficient quarterbacks that they are now. There were concerns about Kaepernick prior to the NFL draft but he has closed the gap between himself and Cam Newton who was regarded as the top quarterback in the 2011 class. There are those who rank Kaepernick ahead of Newton at this point. I personally could not make a selection out of the two. It does seem that Kaepernick is more of a leader than Newton but that is something that is really up the players in the locker room with them. If forced to make a selection, you can’t go wrong with either. As Riddick said, “Really, it is a matter of your personal taste when choosing a QB, as with any other position.” It all comes down to preference. It all comes down to Do you want a Benz or a Beamer?