I've been watching the chatter as the 49ers deal with the aftermath of
their loss to Carolina. As I mentioned in the pregame, there's a lot
about these 9ers, from Harbaugh and OC Greg Roman on down, that I like.
And that includes Colin Kaepernick.
The mob mentality right now is to judge Kaepernick as the wrong choice.
The Chiefs are playing lights out, so Alex Smith is successful.
Granted the 49ers are, too - but the bar's been set pretty high given
that they've been deep into the playoffs twice in a row. Smith had a
part in that, and so did Kaepernick.
I've seen this before with Kaepernick, and it was in Cam Newton's own
struggles. When you're the quarterback, if you do individually strong
things, and the team doesn't win, it's the QB's fault, even though he
handled his part. That's not a full summary of everything that Newton
or Kaepernick have dealt with, and in their greatest successes, they
were a part of a larger team success.
I don't think Kaepernick was the wrong choice. He's younger, he has a
higher ceiling than Smith, and at the time he showed to be able to throw
deep**, where Smith lacked as much arm strength (and his years under
worse versions of the same offense have given him far too conservative a
thought process). Smith is a very efficient, somewhat mobile QB who's
a legit starter in the league, and good for him. Not everyone gets his
chances, but he's found a great home in KC with Andy Reid, who has never
had as efficient a QB in his head coaching career - think about that.
And now that he has one, his offensive prowess isn't reliant on
improvisation or how to exploit a potential running threat. Reid, in a
league awash of running threats, has been liberated without one.
But that doesn't make Smith a great player. Is Kaepernick? I don't
know. 16 games into his starting career, it's still early to judge. I
don't see him making great reads, and down the stretch the 9ers have
somewhat limited his pistol and read option success with a more
straightforward rushing attack. It took until now, even though Newton's
reads were better by this point, to really see maturity in his game, and
that's 35-40 games in, more than double Kaepernick's.
I'm not saying that Kaepernick's one of the all-time greats. That's
foolish. But I think the 9ers made the right choice, and fans are
showing frustration. Given the choice between the two QBs head-up, I'd
probably have picked Kaepernick over Smith. Add in a 34 pick and '14's
3rd, and you'd be nuts to do otherwise. I'd choose Newton over
Kaepernick every time, but that's a different story.
**I wouldn't judge how he dealt with Carolina or Seattle as
representative versions of that.