The San Francisco 49ers rewarded Colin Kaepernick with a massive deal that solidifies the notion that the team is building around the quarterback moving forward. While the contract is team-friendly and the 49ers can move on at any time, they are still committing a significant amount of money yearly to Kaepernick.
As long as he keeps playing well, San Francisco will have Kaepernick under center through at least 2020. While the team obviously has seen enough in his game over 29 career starts to make a commitment to him worth it, Kaepernick still has some things to prove before he can be mentioned in the same breath as an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.
1. He can be an effective pocket passer
While he often makes plays with his big arm and dynamic athleticism, Kaepernick has struggled to be a consistent pocket passer. At times last season he appeared to be indecisive and froze in the pocket rather than going through his progressions. He improved as the season went on, but struggled for a while throwing the ball.
From Weeks 2-10, Kaepernick averaged 154 yards per game and threw seven interceptions. The 49ers lost four of the nine games, mostly due to the fact that the offense struggled to score points in the defeats.
Part of becoming effective in the pocket will also include seeing the whole field, which includes check downs when there is nowhere else to go with the ball. Kaepernick’s completion percentage was 58.4 in 2013, which was the third-lowest in the NFL for quarterbacks who started all 16 games. Taking what the defense gives in the passing game will help him complete more passes and move the chains, minimizing the number of three-and-outs the offense has.
2. He can be the center piece of the offense
After a dominant Week 1 performance to open up 2013, the 49ers tried to center their offense around Kaepernick, and abandoned the power running game. The result was two lopsided loses in which San Francisco only managed a total of 10 points. His statistics were abysmal, as he totaled 277 yards passing and committed six turnovers without a single touchdown.
The 49ers went back to centering their offense around Frank Gore after the losing streak, and Kaepernick was put into more of a game manager role. For the season, the 49ers attempted the fewest passes of any team in the NFL (417).
Now that he is being paid like an offensive lynchpin, Kaepernick must show that he can carry the attack on his own. While the 49ers did struggle with injuries and lack of production from its receivers, it’s up to the quarterback to make the people around him better.
3. He can close the deal
It’s hard to be critical of a young quarterback who already has four playoff wins and a Super Bowl appearance in only two seasons, but there is still room for improvement in big spots.
Kaepernick has had multiple opportunities to make plays that may have brought his team a championship, but failed in the closing moments. The 49ers had four chances to punch the ball in the endzone from inside the 10-yard line during Super Bowl XLVII, but were unable to do so. Kaepernick threw three incomplete passes during the sequence, and seemed to lock in on only Michael Crabtree instead of looking elsewhere.
In the 2013 NFC Championship game, Kaepernick committed three turnovers in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, including an interception in the end zone with seconds left to play.
Great players make plays in the closing moments, and Kaepernick still has to prove he can be on that level. He will never be considered one of the greats in the game until he can seal the deal and bring home a championship.
Photo: Getty Images
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