Colin Kaepernick was a playoff hero for the San Francisco 49ers. A player whose performance throughout the back half of the season was nothing short of spectacular. No one can doubt the incredible impact he had on what was definitely an already excellent team. Plus, for some lucky and waiver wire astute fantasy owners, he was the fantasy playoff spark that brought home a trophy. However, can this small eight-game regular season sample be enough to warrant him as an upper tier fantasy quarterback?
After a safe if not meager performance against St. Louis in Week 10, Kaepernick simply exploded, providing the kind of air and ground attack that made Cam Newton a fantasy star in 2011. He then added to that performance with a magical playoff run and was just minutes away from being a Super Bowl hero. By all accounts, this shouldn’t even be a discussion point. Simply take that sparkling jeweled data set he created and extrapolate it for a 16-game season. Simple, right?
Unfortunately, as fantasy owners we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the unpolished diamond with the limited playing sample put up an incredible performance. Who can resist the undeniable attraction of picking up what might be a top-5 fantasy player at their position while they are ranked in the middle of the pack? Of course, it’s not a sure bet, but we have that feeling. It might have only been a game, but he passed the eyeball test. We use all sorts of silly cliches to justify our hunches. So we take the bait, only to have it shatter our teams and create a mockery of our draft.
How many owners hitched their quarterback hopes on Kevin Kolb in 2011? It certainly seemed like a good move at the time. The young understudy who impatiently waited while the declining veteran fell to the wayside was certainly an attractive option. Comparisons to Aaron Rodgers swirled throughout the internet, making Kolb a trendy fantasy pick. Maybe to a lesser extent you went with Matt Cassel in 2009? Cassel certainly looked the part the year before, playing in all 16 games for the injured Tom Brady. In that case you had a full season to base your draft position upon. Unfortunately, Cassel ended up on a very bad Kansas City Chiefs team, throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns on route to a 69.9 quarterback rating. To his credit Cassel was a Pro Bowler in 2010 and had the best year of his career. Unfortunately that was 2010, and you drafted him in 2009.
So now you find yourself compiling your draft board and images of Kolb, Cassel and even Matt Flynn swirl through your head and you say to yourself, there is no way you’re going to get burned twice. Let someone else reach for Kaepernick. While that may certainly be a prudent and conservative decision, is there a way to see if Kaepernick is more of a Rodgers than the fantasy busts we’ve mentioned?
First, let’s take into account the actual numbers he put up. In the eight full games played by Kaepernick he put up an average of 15.3 fantasy points per game. That’s better than Matt Schaub, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. In fact, it puts him right on par with Matt Ryan. True, it wasn’t a full season, but it was more than just a couple of games, so the Flynn comparison can fly out the window. Additionally, in the three playoff games he averaged 266 passing yards, 1.3 passing touchdowns, 88 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. That’s a very healthy 28 fantasy points (even when adding in a turnover a game), far superior to his 15-plus point season average. In fact, that would have been tops in the league, and against the highest level of competition.
Secondly, Kaepernick is staying with the franchise in which he put up those incredible numbers. Unlike Cassel, he isn’t being relegated to a bottom tier team. The 49ers are contenders across the board, and while the Michael Crabtree injury could be significant, the addition of Anquan Boldin will go a long way in alleviating the vacancy at wide receiver. While there are other question marks surrounding the team, most notably the aging Frank Gore, the running back core is still strong, Vernon Davis is still a beast when he wants to be and that defense is still a stellar group. As such, the 49ers and Kaepernick are going to win their fair shares of games, and in those games he’ll more likely than not put up his share of stats.
Finally, attention must be paid to Kaepernick’s playing style. While his delivery at times can be odd to say the least, a significant portion of his points will be generated through the ground. As anyone who’s drafted Newton can attest to, those rushing yards can be wonderful. However, much like Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick, Kaepernick is not what one would call a bruising athlete. It would be a disservice though to lump him into that category, as Kaepernick falls somewhere in between. A constant Newton-esque goal line presence, possibly not, but hopefully not as injury prone as his slighter-built contemporaries.
Are the three positive attributes discussed surrounding Kaepernick enough to make you forget the sins of the past? Possibly not. One can certainly understand if as an owner you are a bit gun shy. However, keep this in mind, as a fantasy owner do you want to make the playoffs or win a championship? Jim Harbaugh had the same decision to make for the 49ers last year, and we know what he chose.