Regression is a scary word. Yes, there are scarier words, like “thunder” and “flood” (deepest apologies, as my mind is elsewhere). But for our purposes here with early July about to become mid-July in a few days and training camp looming closer (oh gawd), the volume of fantasy drafting will steadily increase too. That means “regression” is the scariest damn word in the English language.
But something odd may be happening with Colin Kaepernick and his relationship with that particular piece of vernacular. The fear of regression due to factors far out of his control may actually help you.
Right now, Kaepernick’s ADP is scattered throughout the various Internet addresses we can use to measure such things. That’s often the nature of ADPs at this particular juncture of the calendar, with Kaepernick as high as 44th overall in ESPN leagues, then he falls to 50th at FantasyPros, before going all the way down to 71.4 over at Fantasy Football Calculator.
That’s quite a range, and we’re mostly concerned with the last number here. Partly because of the potential bargain waiting if Kaep falls to the seventh round in 10-team leagues, but mostly because the fine folks at FFC have provided us with this…
That handy squiggly line shows Kaepernick’s ADP has fallen by over a full round in the past month, and at the very least it shows potential for fine value in your draft without just blind, reaching luck.
Even at that point, the late-round quarterback crowd (and by that, I mean the guys who write entire books about drafting quarterbacks late) may struggle to resist. Kaepernick’s potential fall and the fear of his regression is rooted primarily in the absence of Michael Crabtree for most of the regular season – and likely all of the fantasy football regular season — after he tore his Achilles.
In the immediate aftermath of Crabtree’s injury back in late May, I wrote at length about the fantasy implications throughout the 49ers’ roster, for Kaepernick and beyond. But to refresh and restart your nightmares, let’s recall the specific numbers detailing Kaepernick’s close bro relationship with Crabtree…
In the playoffs Kaepernick had a QB rating of 139.7 when throwing at Crabtree.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 22, 2013
Colin Kaepernick targeted Michael Crabtree 27 times on 3rd down and 13 times in the red zone, both more than 3x as much as the next guy.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 22, 2013
— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) May 22, 2013
All of that is really scary stuff. Kaepernick’s brilliance last year throughout the regular season and into the playoffs makes it easy to forget that as far as on-field starting experience is concerned, he’s still very much a rookie. In Week 1 this fall, he’ll make only his 11th career start, and looking at those target numbers — and especially the frequency of third down and goal-line looks — it’s clear that a young, inexperienced quarterback quickly developed a high level of trust with his top receiver.
And now that receiver who was targeted on 34.6 percent of Kaepernick’s throws during his starts (again, including playoffs) is gone, along with Delanie Walker. The former will be replaced by rookie Vance McDonald, but Mario Manninghan is still out too, and he remains a candidate to start the season on the PUP list as he recovers from ACL and PCL surgery. That means since Anquan Boldin isn’t the vertical, downfield type, Crabtree will primarily be replaced by some combination of A.J. Jenkins and rookie Quinton Patton, who have a grand total of zero receptions between them.
Terrifying indeed, and certainly a fine reason to turn the ignition on the Kaepernick tumble. But once/if his fall begins, wise potential future owners won’t let it last too long as they capitalize on the minimized risk, and the increasing reward.
Remember that although completing a forward pass is certainly something he can do, this is a quarterback and an offense rooted in the running game, and the read-option. Along with the Redskins with Robert Griffin III and the Seahawks with Russell Wilson, the 49ers used Kaepernick’s unique skillset to spearhead the rise of the read-option, deceiving defenses with multiple and exotic looks.
The result for the numbers alongside Kaepernick’s name at the end of the season looked like this:
- Through either a pass or run attempt, he was involved in 339 offensive plays that weren’t handoffs (once again, including playoffs).
- On those plays, he recorded 2,175 total yards.
- Most importantly, 502 of those yards came on the ground. That’s nearly a quarter of Kaepernick’s overall offensive production (23 percent), and it’s not tied to Crabtree.
- As a starter he scored 19 touchdowns, which is a TD on five percent of his pass or run attempts.
That’s efficiency in an offense which is rooted in deception and disguise through a still thriving running game, and a significant chunk of Kaepernick’s yardage isn’t directly tied to Crabtree, or the act of throwing in general. That part of the game is easy for him too, but Kaepernick is really and truly Kaepernick when he’s running, and making defenders feel dizzy and disoriented.
That’s why while there’s a legitimate fear of a regression for Kaepernick due to Crabtree’s absence, his legs and dynamic ability function as a safety net to limit and restrict any fall. And sure, defenses will catch up eventually, because that’s what they do. But as Chris Harris observed recently, quarterbacks have been posting historic rushing numbers for a few seasons now, meaning what we’re seeing isn’t just a sudden spike ready to descend abruptly in the opposite direction:
It’s obvious that we are in a period of expanding QB running. We have witnessed four of the five highest-attempt seasons in NFL history in the past two years. The greatest running-TD season for a QB was 14 by Newton in ’11. Newton and RGIII each had an incredible 26 runs of 10-plus yards last season. If they stay healthy, all four of our Sprung Guns (Newton, Griffin, Kaepernick, and Wilson) have the speed, moves and power to post crazy stats like this, which would mean that merely average throwing production would ensure them top-five fantasy seasons. It would also mean three or four times a year, they’d win you a fantasy game by themselves. And it would mean that if any of them are able to take a step forward toward elite throwing production, they could even eclipse the 400-point barrier, something no QB has ever done.
Fantasy fear is a scary phenomenon which spreads like a virus this time of the year. The antidote? Crazy legs, usually.