On Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers signed Colin Kaepernick to a six-year, big-money extension. The dual-threat signal-caller has loads of promise and enviable postseason credentials, but he also has just one-and-a-half seasons of starting experience and is coming off a campaign that had its hiccups. Simply put, an upward career trajectory is far from guaranteed at this juncture.
Considering what you've seen so far, what -- realistically -- is Kaepernick's ceiling as a quarterback? What will he achieve going forward?
Sky's the limit for this gifted signal-callerColin Kaepernick's ceiling is wildly high. Will he reach it? Who knows? That's why the 49ers built in all those protections in the contract. But it's hard not to like the raw material they are working with.
Kaepernick's record is 21-8 as a starter (postseason included), and the résumé already includes three road playoff victories, two straight NFC Championship Game appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. He has dazzling speed, a cannon for an arm and a fierce desire to be the best. While he needs to learn to be a better pocket passer and to go through progressions more, those are teachable skills, and there is no reason to believe he is not up to the task. His numbers flagged a bit last year when his best receiver, Michael Crabtree, was out. And the only team that has given him any kind of consistent issues is the same one giving everyone consistent issues: the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. Kaepernick also is being coached by someone who gets quarterbacks, and he's in an organization that is acquiring talent at receiver that should help him.
How many young quarterbacks have accomplished as much as Kaepernick -- while still having so much room for growth? Take a look around the league. This is a rare talent in San Francisco.
No young QB is more fascinating than KaepernickKaepernick's ceiling is higher than that of any young quarterback in the league. It's higher than Robert Griffin III's ceiling. It's higher than Russell Wilson's. (Marvin Lewis and A.J. Green, meanwhile, will have back problems from all the crouching they're forced to endure while living under Andy Dalton's ceiling.)
Kaepernick needs to work on the finer points of the position -- like going through his reads and staying calm in the pocket. But he has the arm strength, speed and intangibles to someday be in Canton. Realistically, I don't expect him to get there, because it's unfair to expect anyone to get there. Andrew Luck is the only young quarterback that I have higher hopes for than Kaepernick, but no young QB is more fascinating. Nothing would surprise me with Kaepernick, good or bad -- that's a personal sentiment that the 49ers quarterback evokes more than any one of his colleagues.
Kap's ceiling is lower than those of Rodgers, Luck, Newton and RGIIII never believed Ron Jaworski's hyperbole that "Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever." He has too many flaws as a passer and field general. But I understand the spirit of the sentiment.
Even as a raw passer, Kaepernick's quarterback rating and yards per attempt are among the best in history through 25 to 30 starts. Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III have the highest ceilings in the league. I would put Kap just below them, while adding that he and RGIII also have low floors.
Kaepernick remains the quarterback I'd want to build aroundOne year ago, I penned a debate piece suggesting that Colin Kaepernick would be the franchise quarterback I would want to build around for the next decade. I believe the San Francisco 49ers' decision to hand him a mega-deal confirms my projection that he will be a special player at the position.
In only one-and-a-half seasons of work, Kaepernick has exhibited all of the core qualities (intelligence, confidence, pocket poise, arm talent and athleticism) to be a game changer at the position. He has won at a high level as a young starter (21-8 record, including postseason play) and guided his team to the Super Bowl. While some would argue that he acts as a game manager in the 49ers' ground-based offense, there is no doubt that his athleticism and big arm have added explosiveness to the attack. He did a largely commendable job in directing the 49ers' offense last season when injuries ravaged the receiving corps and left him without his No. 1 perimeter target (Michael Crabtree). Sure, he experienced a bit of a slump in the middle of the season, but he had his team on the cusp of making a second straight Super Bowl appearance under his guidance.
With an upgraded receiving corps and a commitment from the organization to build around his immense talent and potential, Kaepernick will develop into an elite quarterback and keep the 49ers in title contention over the next five to seven years.