Colin Kaepernick may be the poster boy for where the quarterback position is headed.
Or maybe – where it already is.
The second-year San Francisco 49ers quarterback has revolutionized the position. His cannon of an arm and gazelle-like speed and elusiveness have made him nearly impossible to contain, especially in the ‘Pistol’ offense.
He’s transformed a good team into an elite one.
What he does through the air and on the ground has made him a fan favorite and media darling during these playoffs. But it’s what Kaepernick does off the field that has put him in position to lead the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in nearly two decades.
Kaepernick is an example of how effective a quarterback can be with a big arm, pinpoint accuracy, and the ability to take off in an instant. He follows a long line of African-American quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Cam Newton and more who possess the ability to beat defenses in a variety of ways.
Typically with athletic quarterbacks, the general perception is they get by simply on athletic ability alone. These “freak athletes” have God-given abilities that allow them to throw bombs downfield and run 4.3-second 40s. Players like Vick, Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell, and even Newton to an extent have been accused of not putting the time in the film room, and instead relying on their natural talent.
This is where Kaepernick breaks the mold, and if he wins the Super Bowl this Sunday, may change the perceptions of how we view dual-threat quarterbacks forever. For all the Vick and Newton Kaepernick has in him, he may have just as much Peyton Manning in him too.
And that should be mentioned, praised and noted as much if not more than his mobility in and out of the pocket.
Kaepernick has always been just as impressive in the classroom as he was on the football field. He held a 4.0 in high school and a 3.5 at the University of Nevada. He scored an impressive 37 on the NFL’s Wonderlic intelligence test (which is still unfairly seen as a barometer for NFL intelligence).
One of the reasons 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh – a noted film junkie – traded up in the second round of the draft last year to get Kaepernick, was because the young player’s work ethic mirrored his own, as noted in Peter King’s Sports Illustrated column in May 2011.
“Kaepernick’s a football junkie, and he’ll be trained 24/7/365 by Jim Harbaugh to be an NFL quarterback. Every aspect of his life will be about being a quarterback. Perfect guy for Harbaugh,” [said ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer]. As another draft analyst told me Sunday: “Harbaugh drafted himself.”
Like Harbaugh, Kaepernick loved watching game tape. Growing up, Kaepernick studied players like Cunningham, while also learning the nuances of finding weaknesses in opposing defenses on tape.
He’s also acutely aware that his physical prowess is what makes him dynamic, so he’s typically the first 49er to arrive at practice every day, even beating out future Hall of Fame linebacker Patrick Willis.
“I know that Kap’s a guy who works every day and he’s very confident in himself, not conceited by any means. But, if you see what we see every day, I get there and, I’m the type of man I don’t like to be out-worked, but honestly I get there to the facility and he’s outside already warming up,” [said Willis].
It’s that preparation that’s also helped Kaepernick step in immediately and be a leader. His command of the huddle and tactical approach to the game have impressed teammates and 49er fans.
“He’s a coach on the field,” said Kaepernick’s offensive coordinator in high school, Brandon Harris. “That was exactly him. Don’t let the tattoos and everything fool you. This guy’s an intellectual.”
Kaepernick is an incredibly exciting player, and it’s easy to immediately credit his rise to stardom to his freakish athletic ability. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs to play baseball, and had the ability to play basketball in college, so clearly he’s one of the game’s premier athletes.
He may be revolutionizing the game on the field, but off the field, he’s following the same playbook as the greats that came before him: discipline, hard work, film study and preparation.
Fans love what Kaepernick does on Sundays. But the work he’s putting in from Monday through Saturday may ultimately determine how we perceive the future black quarterback.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace