Coming Into the 2014 Season
Colin Kaepernick came into the season off a breakout 2013 campaign in which he had thrown 10 TDs vs. 1 INT in his last 6 regular season games all while rushing for 243 yards in three post season games. He was 1 Richard Sherman tip away from reaching the Super Bowl and NFL and fantasy football fans were led to believe that he could be the next big thing at the quarterback position. His 2013 season (25 TDs/8 INTs, 524 yards rushing) placed him 12th amongst fantasy QBs, but because of his rushing ability and his much improved passing efficiency, it seemed as if this was his floor while the sky was the limit. His ADP ranged from as high as the 6th QB to as low as the 10th QB off the board.
2014: Weeks 1-6
The 2014 fantasy season started off with mixed results as Kaepernick was not playing all that well as an NFL QB, but the fantasy point totals added up. In the first five weeks he showed flashes of brilliance for one half of the game while sailing throws, taking sacks and folding in the other half. However, he consistently provided enough rushing yards so that his fantasy point total was respectable. His week 6 MNF performance against the Rams (335 yards and 3 TD) was his high point of the season, raising him to the 7th ranked QB. This performance had Kaepernick owners saying to themselves, “This guy hasn’t even started really running yet. He’s put together incredible halves of games, and finally he had a complete game of dominance. This guy could be top 5 when all is said and done. Crabtree and Vernon Davis haven’t even done anything yet. This season is going to be incredible!” Well, as you all know, that week 6 game would be his only big performance, and the plummet to a disappointing season happened quickly, leading to his finishing as the 16th ranked QB. So the question on the minds of Kaepernick owners at year’s end was…..What happened?
Two Bust Pass Catchers. I’m talkin’ to you Crabtree and Vernon
Michael Crabtree finished 2013 healthy and having been two years removed from a torn ACL, his 2014 season was supposed to be a special one. NFL experts pegged a healthy Crabtree as a game changer, much like he was in 2012, and the reason why San Francisco would overtake Seattle in the division. In addition, Vernon Davis was an athletic tight end on the rise coming off a career high 13 TDs. Savvy veterans Anquan Boldin and newly signed Stevie Johnson rounded out what looked like a pass catching foursome that would give defensive backs nightmares. What happened next was not expected by anyone…Boldin was the heart and soul of the team and was incredible while the great duo of Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree were among the biggest real life and fantasy football busts. Both players struggled with injury while running poor routes and dropping pass after pass. They’ve actually dropped three passes since you started reading this article! Stevie Johnson was basically a non-factor. The poor play of Crabtree and Davis left a lot of points on the table for Kapernick owners from day 1 all the way through week 16.
Ineffective/Injured Offensive Line
Starting guard Alex Boone entered 2014 as a holdout and didn’t have a training camp. Pro Bowl right tackle Anthony Davis was coming off shoulder surgery which held him out of the preseason and injured his hamstring in practice before week 1. He returned in week 4 and sprained his MCL the same day against the Eagles. He returned briefly while playing injured and then sustained a concussion in week 12. He was held to 5 games. Boone struggled throughout the year and Davis’s absence led to swinging gate, Jonathan Martin, having to play right tackle. The end result was an offensive line that allowed 53 sacks, the 3rd most in the league. Sure, Kaepernick held onto the ball too long leading to some of these sacks, but the o-line was significantly worse than the unit the 49ers had previously considered a position of great strength.
Defenses Adjusting to the Mobile QB
As I had previously mentioned, Kaepernick put together respectable rushing totals in weeks 1-6. He had rushed for 37-65 yards in 4 out of the first 6 weeks. In the following 7 weeks, Kaepernick was not able to break 26 yards. His threat as a rusher had been taken away, and the safety net for fantasy owners, Kaepernick’s rushing totals, had disappeared. As a slap in the face to his owners, he ended the season rushing for 151 yards and a TD in a game against the Chargers. It was his only rushing TD on the season (last season he had 4).
Decision Making and Touch Passes
These are the two areas where Kaepernick struggles the most. When his first read is open he’s incredible. When his second read is open he’s pretty good. When both his first and second reads are covered he starts dancing around and either throws the ball away, takes a sack, or turns it over. Starting in week 7, defenses regularly started to rush only 3 or 4 and take away his first receiving option. He was able to find Anquan Boldin often because my man Q is incredible at finding holes in the zone, but Kaerpernick often missed first down opportunities on crucial drives because he did not go past his second read. Outlet receivers and lesser talented options would be open, but he just wouldn't bother to look at them. These adjustments led to a jaw dropping run from week 7 to week 16 where Kaepernick had 1 or fewer TD passes leading to Kaepernick being amongst the worst fantasy QBs in the 2nd half of the season.
In addition, when Kaepernick did deliver the ball it was almost always getting to the receiver at 95 MPH. Kaepernick was recruited as a pitcher and he sports one of the fastest bullet passes, but it’s the only speed he knows how to throw. Until the young QB learns when it is appropriate to throw a bullet vs. a medium speed pass vs. a touch pass, more drops and more inaccuracy can be expected.
Major changes will be coming in San Francisco. Jim Harbaugh is already out as head coach and offensive coordinator Greg Roman is interviewing with other teams, so he could very well be out of the mix in San Francisco. Kaepernick has all the talent in the world, but he needs to get his head on straight in order to succeed. His decision making and accuracy issues were exploited this season and he’ll most likely be learning a new offense. The new head coach, and coordinator/personnel changes will determine his value going into next season. Because of his unique skill-set, he will always have a high ceiling as long as he’s a starting QB, however, unlike last year, fantasy owners should not be drafting him as their starting QB.