It seems like an eternity now, but less than three years ago, Colin Kaepernick was looking like the next Tom Brady. They were both backup quarterbacks in their sophomore season when they were propelled into action after the starting quarterback went down with injury. As the replacement, both quarterbacks became a catalyst on the offense, propelling the team to the Super Bowl.
Unlike Brady, who has emerged as a first ballot Hall of Famer, Kaepernick may not even be a first string quarterback. In just four games in his first season without ex-Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick has struggled and the 49ers are 1-3. His interception rate sits a 4.3 percent, more than double his previous career high and he is averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt. Despite his reputation as a mobile quarterback, he has also been unable to escape pressure, being sacked 14 times this season.
Kaepernick’s regression began last season and a key reason behind it is the downfall of the read-option offense in the NFL. Much like the wildcat, these simple, collegiate offensive schemes have limited success in the NFL due to the superior athleticism of NFL players. With Kaepernick’s bread-and-butter scheme neutered, he was relied on much more as a passer and the offense stalled and he became more turnover prone.
While some will point to Kaepernick’s rushing totals and point out that they were higher in 2014 than in 2013, he also had a 90 yard rush which improved his overall numbers. More importantly, he only scored one touchdown in 2014.
According to Pro Football Focus, the weakest link of Kaepernick’s passing game happens to be on the right side, where he has tossed all five of his picks. On passes of 10 or more yards, he has completed just five of his 13 passing attempts.
His turnovers aren’t limited to his arm, either. On just 33 carries, he has already fumbled the ball three times.
The key to the 49ers success, however, wasn’t the offense, it was a defense filled with star players. Kaepernick was never relied on to be a star, but instead relied on be a game manager. Despite this being exactly what he was, he became a media darling due to his athleticism and arm strength. In 2013, former Eagles quarterback and current ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski claimed that Kaepernick “could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.” Two years later, he has taken that statement back.
With an offseason filled with roster turnover, it is evident that the 49ers are being forced to rebuild. Kaepernick’s contract is not fully guaranteed in 2016, so the team can release him in a cap move next season, though it is likely that they will try to trade him first. It’s hard to imagine, however, San Francisco getting much in return.
Beyond 2015, however, the future signal caller of the 49ers may not be on this roster. Blaine Gabbert was a bust in Jacksonville before being ousted to San Francisco and practice squad quarterback Dylan Thompson is an undrafted rookie. Depending on where the 49ers end up in the draft, they could go after one of the three quarterbacks in Michigan State’s Connor Cook, California’s Jared Goff and Ohio State signal caller Cardale Jones. Kaepernick can no longer be seen as a part of the team’s long-term future and they will need to quickly find their franchise signal caller as they begin to rebuild.