The San Francisco 49ers have made a change at starting quarterback as head coach Chip Kelly namedColin Kaepernick his starter for Week 6. The moves comes after an ineffective five-game stint for Blaine Gabbert where his passing yards per game (178) and passer rating (69.6) both rank 30th among NFL starters.
Kaepernick was once an effective starting quarterback, with his best season coming in 2013 where he posted a 21-8 touchdown to interception ratio and rushed for an additional 524 yards. He started 16 games that season and finished as the QB11 in fantasy. Since then, however, the road has been much tougher for Kaepernick. His 2015 season in particular was a disaster. The 49ers scored a measly 13.6 points per game under Kaepernick last season and he eventually lost his grip on the starting job, amid ineffective play and injuries, to Blaine Gabbert. Receivers with established resumes like Michael Crabtree, Steve Johnson and Torrey Smith all saw their production wilt under Kaepernick from 2014 to 2015.
The question for his 2016 outlook will entirely revolve around how he meshes with new head coach Chip Kelly and a new offensive system. Kelly became well-known for pumping up the stats of his offensive players during his years in Philadelphia. We all remember Nick Foles' wild outlier 2013 season where he threw 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions and averaged 20 fantasy points per game, but even Mark Sanchez had his best year under Kelly's watch in relief duties. He averaged almost 15 points per game in 2014.
Simply put, for fantasy purposes, this offense is unlike any other that Colin Kaepernick has played in before. Despite his lackluster past few season, there's potential for him to post productive weeks as a quarterback streamer in fantasy. Chip Kelly's teams in Philadelphia ranked 13th (2013), 1st (2014) and 2nd (2015) in plays run among NFL offenses. In that same span, the 49ers ranked 31st (2013), 21st (2014) and 30th (2015) in plays run. On average the last three years heading into 2016, Kelly's teams ran 114 more plays per season than the 2013 to 2015 49ers.
Chip Kelly has stayed true to form this season as the 49ers rank 12th in offensive plays run through the first five weeks. San Francisco also has the lowest time between snaps (28.5 seconds) in the NFL this season. Kelly wants his teams to play fast, which creates more opportunities and a rising tide for his skill position players.
Playing in an offense with this kind of volume has a positive effect on a quarterback's fantasy production, even if they aren't playing well. In Gabbert's game against the Panthers when he completed 47.2 percent of his passes, he scored 20.72 fantasy points. In his Week 5 loss to the Cardinals that got him benched, Gabbert scored 19.48 points. Both of those games were buoyed by Gabbert scoring a rushing touchdown, and we know that Kaepernick has more upside as a rusher.
Kelly's offense is predicted on accuracy and timing-based rhythm passing on crossing routes, something that Kaepernick has always struggled with (59 percent career completion rate). However, Kelly has never had a passer with Kaepernick's rushing upside and that was a wrinkle that his offenses utilized to a pristine degree back in his days at Oregon. At least from that perspective, the marriage promises to be interesting.
As mentioned, the production of notable pass-catching weapons took a dip when Kaepernick started struggling from 2014 to 2015. That is still in the range of outcomes, especially for a player like Jeremy Kerley who primarily runs short routes. Kerely currently owns a 30 percent share of the team targets and is one pace for 972 receiving yards. Both figures are likely take a with Kaepernick and his lack of anticipation.
However, we can expect Kaepernick to improve the 49ers deep passing game, which was a staple of Chip Kelly's 2013 offense but Blaine Gabbert simply cannot unlock. Per the NFL's Next Gen Stats package, Gabbert boasts a 39.8 passer rating on passes traveling 20-plus yards in the air, completing just three of 17 attempts. To his credit, Kaepernick posted an 85.7 passer rating on 20-plus air yard passes in his dreadful 2015 season. This might mean more opportunities for deep threat Torrey Smith, who has just nine catches through five games.
Kaepernick's speed as a runner should also help create room and opportunities to run from the read option for Carlos Hyde. The Ohio State product operated out of this style of system in his years in college with Braxton Miller under center. This is a dimension Chip Kelly is certainly looking forward to unlocking in his offense, which already boasted one of the NFL's rushing games in 2013 and 2014. Hyde already leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns and this move should only help him.
While the insertion of Colin Kaepernick into the starting lineup is unlikely to save a 49ers offense that ranks dead last in yards per play, or make major waves in fantasy, there will certainly be some impact. Torrey Smith and Carlos Hyde should stand to slightly benefit from the move, while players like Jeremy Kerley might lose some luster off the value they established. Colin Kaepernick himself is also in position to post quality quarterback streaming abilities thanks to the volume of this offense and his own rushing ability. Either way, change was necessary for the 49ers and Kaepernick will get than chance to revive his floundering on-field NFL career.