A Case for Colin Kaepernick – Using Stats

It seems like the most controversial debate of this offseason has been whether or not Colin Kaepernick isn’t getting signed because of his protesting or because he’s not a good quarterback. There are fierce defenders on both sides of the argument, and while I definitely agree the protesting is probably the main reason, I also could see how a 1-10 record last season can make some people question his merits as a player.

People who are adamant about Kaepernick not having the chops to be an NFL quarterback (who don’t immediately state how he’s “unAmerican” for sitting during the national anthem) point to his less than desirable stats from the 2016 season as why he doesn’t deserve to be in the NFL.

So, why not look at these awful stats from his 2016 season, and see if they’re right?

Let’s clear the air to start: the 2016 San Francisco 49ers sucked. Their offense was 27th in Points Scored and 31st in Total Yards, and their Defense was dead last in both categories. But just because the team was so bad doesn’t mean that Kaepernick himself had a bad season.

Let’s look at Kaepernick’s stats from the 2016 season:

2241 passing yards, 16/4 touchdowns/interceptions, 59.2 completion percentage, and a Quarterback Rating of 90.7, as well as 468 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns and 6.8 yards per carry.

Okay, so those aren’t MVP numbers, I’ll give you that.

But I’m not here to say that Kaepernick needs to be a starter on a playoff bound team. I just think he has the talent and the numbers to be a quarterback on a team.

Now, let’s compare his stats to other quarterbacks in the league who do still have their jobs, or a job.

First: Quarterback Rating or QBR

This is a list of quarterbacks (and unless noted with an asterisk*, these quarterbacks are expected to be Game 1 starters) that posted a lower QBR than Kaepernick:

Colin Kaepernick 90.70
Tyrod Taylor 89.60
Philip Rivers 87.90
Carson Palmer 87.20
Jameis Winston 86.10
Eli Manning 86.00
Trevor Siemian 84.60
Joe Flacco 83.50
Carson Wentz 79.30
Blake Bortles 78.80
Case Keenum* 76.40
Cam Newton 75.80
Brock Osweiler* 72.20
Ryan Fitzpatrick* 69.60

There are even more quarterbacks than these that have jobs that didn’t even throw a pass or enough passes to qualify from the ESPN database I gathered these from.

Some of these are from good quarterbacks who had off years (eg: Newton, Rivers, and Palmer). But a lot of these are players who have consistently been below the average of the league (Flacco, Eli). No one is even considering a quarterback controversy in Baltimore or New York.

But maybe this year was an outlier? Maybe Kaepernick has usually been bad but he was just super efficient this year despite still being too bad to have a job in the NFL?

Here’s his QBR rankings over his career as a starter:

Year Starting Record QBR Season Outcome
2012 5 wins, 2 losses 98.3 Lost Super Bowl
2013 12 wins, 4 losses 91.6 Lost NFC Championship
2016 1 win, 10 losses 90.7 Missed Playoffs
2014 8 wins, 8 losses 86.4 Missed Playoffs
2015 2 wins, 6 losses 78.5 Missed Playoffs

Just a click under the season he went 12-4 and was an admittedly too high throw to Michael Crabtree away from going to back-to-back Super Bowls despite losing his first appearance.

Second: Touchdown to Interception Ratio

Kaepernick had a 4:1 Touchdown to Interception Ratio last year. That’s pretty great. Here’s a list of every quarterback who had a better ratio than Kaepernick.

Tom Brady 28/2 14.00
Dak Prescott 23/4 5.80
Aaron Rodgers 40/7 5.70
Matt Ryan 38/7 5.40
Derek Carr 28/6 4.70
Sam Bradford 20/5 4.00
Colin Kaepernick 16/4 4.00

Outside of Kaepernick and Bradford (and Carr, who had a broken leg), the top four all played in the playoffs, with Brady, Rodgers, and Ryan making it to the Conference Championship rounds of their respective Conferences, with Brady winning the Super Bowl and Matt Ryan taking home the MVP of the League, according to the data on Sporting Charts.

This is a pretty elite list, at least in terms of the 2016 stats. I’m not disillusioned to think that Prescott and Bradford are even in the elite conversation at this point (or whether Ryan will stay, now that Kyle Shanahan has left ATL), but a 4:1 ratio is solid starter numbers, and the best of his career:

Year TD/INT Ratio
2016 16 TDs / 4 INTs 4.00
2012 10 TDs / 3 INTs 3.33
2013 21 TDs / 8 INTs 2.63
2014 19 TDs / 10 INTs 1.90
2015 6 TDs / 5 INTs 1.20

Third: His rushing ability/need to run to be effective

Remember in like 2011/2012 when sports analysts salivated over a RGIII, a Russell Wilson, a… Colin Kaepernick? And how now last week, Colin Cowherd is saying that running quarterbacks are the “easier, lazier way to play quarterback.” Boy, have times changed.

There is some merit to what Cowherd is saying. If you’re faster than everyone else on the field, than you will always have that in your back pocket in case you make a bad read or you can;t figure out what the other team is doing defensively.

But would Cam Newton be the 2015 MVP if he didn’t have 600+ rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on top of his career best stats (35/10 Passing TDs/INTs and 3800+ passing yards)? would RGIII be the 2012 Rookie of the year if he didn’t rush for 800+ yards?

I would say probably not.

And to be fair, there have been running quarterbacks who have been successful pocket passers. Steve Young comes to mind. (To be clear: not saying Kaepernick is Young.)

And Kaepernick actually less in 2016, but ran more efficiently than he had previously in his career: (* marks career high)

Year Games Started Attempts Yards TDs Yards/Att Yards/Game
2012 7 63 415 5* 6.6 31.90
2013 16* 92 524 4 5.7 32.80
2014 16* 104* 639* 1 6.1 39.90*
2015 8 45 256 1 5.7 28.40
2016 11 69 468 2 6.8* 39.00

He was about a full yard per game behind his 2014 average, but he’s averaged 0.7 yards more per attempt. Now, an easy rejection of this would be that he played five less games, had 35 less attempts and 171 less yards than in 2014, but the way Kaepernick was running the ball was far superior to the way Blaine Gabbert, the original starter for the 49ers in 2016, was running in the same offense.

And what were Gabbert’s rushing totals in those five games that Kaepernick didn’t play?

40 rushes, 173 yards.

Come on, son.

Conclusion:

I write all of this not to convince you that Kaepernick deserves to be one of the 32 esteemed starters in possibly the most important position in all of sports.

I write this because he deserves a job as a player on a team, despite he fact that he is somehow a PR problem because he peacefully and non-confrontationally uses his freedom of speech, which has become such a hotly debated issue, to express discontent he has and severe problems he perceives in American racial relations today.

But somehow Mark ‘Butt Fumble’ Sanchez has a backup job?

And Dan ‘Safety Walk’ Orlovsky has a job?

And Ryan ‘Six Interceptions’ Fitzpatrick has a job?

I think I’ve made my point. You don’t have to agree with me, but you can’t say ‘it’s completely because he’s fallen off statistically.’ He may have. But we don’t know that totally yet. And there are plenty of backup positions that are more than competitive that Kaepernick is as good or better than the backup quarterback that is currently entrenched there.

Important too, you don’t have to create an entirely new offense for him. Make him learn a West Coast style, short passes and running plays. He thrived in Harbaugh’s West Coast offense, just as Alex Smith did. And where is Alex Smith now? Thriving in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense in Kansas City.

Remember Andy Reid? Helped Donovan McNabb, a running quarterback, get to a Super Bowl? Helped Michael Vick, the best dual threat quarterback of all time, have the best season of his career in 2010? Yeah, thought you’d remember all of those guys.

But maybe I’m just an angry Packers fan that doesn’t want everyone thinking the guy who burned Green Bay for 181 rushing yards in the 2012 Divisional Round is a terrible quarterback who was never any good.

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