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After leading the San Francisco 49ers on an incredible postseason run that took the storied franchise all the way to the Super Bowl a year ago, Colin Kaepernick received the kind of adulation and praise one would expect a successful marquee player would enjoy. His dynamic dual-threat skill set and imposing physical presence helped him to a record-setting performance against Green Bay under the bright lights of the NFC playoffs stage, which, along with his brazen attitude and signature “Kaepernicking” celebration, quickly vaulted him to stardom and prompted many to whip out the often tossed around “elite quarterback” label. However, after nine games this season, it’s quite clear that Kaepernick doesn’t belong on that pedestal with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees—at least not yet.
Still, that’s not to say Kaepernick’s meteoric rise was completely undeserved. Kaepernick certainly surprised and impressed fans—as well as defenses—last season with Pro Bowl-like numbers and an ability to make would-be tacklers look absolutely silly. However, with only 10 career starts under his belt heading into the 2013 campaign, the MVP-level expectations many saddled Kaepernick with seemed pretty unreasonable. So, should we be surprised he’s performed well below that seemingly unreachable bar so far this year? Not at all, but most NFL fans certainly expected a bit more from San Fran’s new hero.
Following last season’s playoffs, Kaepernick picked up right where he left off in this year’s season opener by torching the Packers (again) for a career-high 412 yards, but since then, he had endured his fair share of struggles. Not only is he coming off the worst game of his career—in which he posted a dismal quarterback rating of 42.0 and threw for just 91 yards in a 10-9 loss to the Panthers on Sunday—but his numbers across the board have been down all year. Compared to last season’s statistics, Kaepernick has seen a sharp 15.3-point drop off in quarterback rating, a 10 percent decrease in completion percentage and has already thrown twice as many interceptions (6) as he did all of last season. So is this a classic case of the sophomore slump (technically junior in his case, since this is his third year), or is this the type of production 49ers fans can expect from now on?
Aside from the fact that the Niners still have seven games to play this season, some might say it’s unfair to judge Kaepernick’s 2013 performance so harshly, but to truly be an elite quarterback, there’s a certain standard and level of consistency that has to be maintained. To reach elite status also takes years of experience and a track record of success, which Kaepernick has still yet to build.
However, you could easily argue that Kaepernick is on the path to the elite class. With a 6-3 record, the Niners are still a major threat to repeat as NFC champs and although Kap’s numbers haven’t been MVP-esque, they have still been pretty solid, as he enters week 11 with a 83.0 passer rating and 12 total touchdowns (nine passing, three rushing).
Of course, another major factor in the elite discussion is the ability to come through in the clutch and win big games. Although Kaepernick and his Niners came up short in last year’s Super Bowl, he did play his best with everyone watching and with everything on the line. If he can do so again this year, the numbers will be more of an afterthought. After all, at the end of the day, greatness is almost always measured by wins/losses and championship rings.
Kaepernick’s fingers are still unadorned with Super Bowl bling, but there’s no doubt that the NFL is rooting for him, as well as its other young stars who have helped sell the league in the past couple of years. In fact, you could say the NFL has perpetuated the idea of Kaepernick being elite, considering all the coverage and exposure he gets compared to some other attention-deserving up-and-comers.
Even with the league heavily promoting him, Kaepernick’s sheer talent should get most of the credit for him even being in this conversation. What we saw in last year’s playoffs was undeniably jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Make no mistake, we’re not taking anything away from Kaepernick there.
So, is Kaepernick a great young talent? Without question. But is he an elite NFL quarterback? Not even close, so let’s put the anointing oils away and let his career blossom, while putting the big picture in perspective.
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