Colin Kaepernick is the reason why I don’t call myself a scout, guru, or expert. I’m a mere pleb writing about football, sometimes logically and rationally, and on occasion, illogically and irrationally; I like to think that’s human nature.
Kaepernick has been outstanding and is one of the league’s fastest-rising talents. And in a league that has a class difference — and it does and always has; read more here — at the quarterback position, he appears to possess the talent to quickly ascend into the upper echelon despite his inexperience. I didn’t always think that, however. I was one of the guys who was not a fan of Kaepernick’s coming out of Nevada because he was far too much of a project, I thought. Now, he looks anything but with the masterful work he’s done at the line of scrimmage, and of course, the throws he’s made.
This past week against the New Orleans Saints, Kaepernick made two throws that he didn’t make or attempt much at Nevada. They were the type that’s filled with the “it” stuffing that evaluators get all gushy about when they discuss young quarterbacks. The first one came at the end of the first quarter, and it was a check-down to fullback Bruce Miller for 26 yards.
San Francisco was in “21″ personnel on the big play, featuring two backs and one tight end, and Kaepernick was under center — none of which he did at Nevada, by the way. A five-step play action fake to Frank Gore followed the snap and then the eyes of Kaepernick shifted to his far left in search of an open target.
The nearest target, tight end Vernon Davis (who ran a shoot route), was covered while the furthest was open briefly, but not soon enough to allow Kaepernick to get him the ball. Kaepernick was holding the football tight with both hands and feeling pressure from his right, which he was instinctively moving away from before abruptly taking his left hand off the ball and scrambling up and right of the pocket. He continued to run right, eluding pressure as he identified his potential receiver, and then he settled his eyes on his nearest target, running back Frank Gore.
Gore was one of two potential receivers — the other fullback Bruce Miller — on the play, and in between the two was polarizing Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Vilma was trapped in the middle, indecisive in his coverage, and Kaepernick took advantage by staring at Gore before throwing it to Miller, who ran down the right sideline for 26 yards. It was a moment of brilliance, and it showed just how impressive of a talent Kaepernick truly is.
Two quarters later, Kaepernick had another big throw, and this one went for 45-yards to tight end Delanie Walker.
It came three plays into the third quarter and featured heavy personnel, with two backs and two tight ends closely aligned. Kaepernick once again executed a play-action pass after receiving the snap, and then he looked down the field. As he did, he climbed the pocket and stepped up into the face of pressure without be rattled, delivering a strike to Walker a few yards outside of the hash mark. Albeit to the same side of the field, it was a difficult throw to make for Kaepernick because it was downfield, which is sometimes equivalent to playing catch during a hurricane.
The two throws above are what evaluators look for in young quarterbacks. They illustrate pocket presence, accuracy, and understanding of the game, and the ability to pose a threat in all depths of the field — in a few words, the complete quarterback.
It’s only the beginning for Kaepernick, but it appears that the San Francisco 49ers have found the franchise passer that they’ve been longing for since the golden ages of Joe Montana and Steve Young. They were right, I was wrong.