By Jerrell Richardson
Since Alex Smith lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick in 2012, the debate as to who the 49ers should have picked has not stopped. Did the San Francisco 49ers do the right thing in going with the young and explosive Kaepernick? Or would they have been better off keeping the incumbent Smith?
This ongoing conversation gained some fodder this past weekend when Alex Smith came to Santa Clara, the new home of the 49ers, and brought with him his new team. Finally, after two years, one head-to-head meeting and plenty of stats to compare, this debate can finally be put to bed. When the 49ers went with the new guy, it was clearly the best possible decision; in fact, it’s not even close.
Numbers Almost Identical
The easiest thing to look at when comparing the two quarterbacks are the statistics and the fairest way to judge a quarterback by todays standards is by their passer rating. One of issues fans had with benching Smith was how well he was playing prior to the concussion that sidelined him and eventually cost him the starting job. His rating in 2012 was 96.9, a career high for the former No. 1 pick. After taking over, Kaepernick posted a 100.8 rating, and oh by the way, took the team to the Super Bowl.
Smith was then traded, and with both players having a full year in their new surroundings, Kaepernick again posted the higher figure, (88.6 to 85.1). So far this year the two are identical with a 91.3 rating, due to Kaepernick having thrown two less touchdowns, but he has beat Smith everywhere else, including on the field. The current 49ers quarterback has a higher completion percentage, has thrown for more yards, and is averaging more passing yards per game. Kaepernick also has Smith in rushing yards and the two are tied in interceptions.
The Difference Between The Two
Since taking over, Kaepernick has had the 49ers in serious contention for a Super Bowl. While they were already in the conversation, with Smith, San Francisco went from a team with an outside chance to a team in heavy contention. With Smith the question was always could he put up enough points? With Kaepernick it’s not a question of talent, its can he avoid the mental mistakes.
They All Makes Mistakes
Kap has been ripped for his performance in two playoff games, and while he certainly committed his fair share of mistakes in both playoff defeats, he also did a lot right, and always kept his team in striking distance. The list of quality passers that have stunk it up on the big stage is endless, and to say that because of two less than stellar performances against two elite defenses that Kaepernick is a bad quarterback is the typical knee jerk reaction. Compare his play to arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Peyton Manning, whose pick six cost his team a Super Bowl in 2010, and just last year threw two interceptions while being embarrassed by the same Seattle team that Kaepernick was criticized after throwing two interceptions against the round before.
Those who back Smith argue in 2012, Smith would have beaten the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Not only is this obviously pure speculation, but if going down this route, then does Smith even get them there? Remember the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta? The 49ers trailed 17-0 early before scoring 28 points over the next three quarters to pull off the dramatic comeback. Smith is an above average quarterback when things are going right and his team is up on the scoreboard, but he is not the type of passer to erase a deficit and throw you back into it. So chances are, with Smith, the 49ers season ends in Atlanta that year.
Nor is Smith even the type of quarterback who you can bank on to “manage” a big lead in the playoffs. Last season he had a 31-10 halftime lead and early in the 3rd quarter had a 38-10 lead over the Colts, yet couldn’t seal the deal, eventually losing 45-44. Just this past Sunday Smith was given a chance to pull off a game winning drive and he airmailed his first throw. These are not the actions of a ball protecting, Super Bowl winning quarterback.
The same thing can be said about Kaepernick, but only to a certain extent. His problem has been the last throw, and something has to be said for getting to that position. Unfortunately it’s the NFL and the slightest error can cost you, which is exactly what has happened to Kaepernick. He of all people knows the game of inches. An inch less on his throw to Crabtree in the Super Bowl and an inch to the left on his throw in last year’s NFC Championship Game and he has two rings.
Anything Smith Can Do, Kap Can Do Better
To sum it all up, in just his 3rd year running an NFL offense, Kaepernick can do everything on the field that Smith in his 10th can do and better. Kaepernick is not only better now, but will around longer.
There is something to be said for protecting the ball, but there is a misconception that Smith does a much better job at it. Last year both players had three fumbles and Kaepernick threw one more interception. So even in this area, Kaepernick is neck and neck with Smith. So what possible reason is there to say the 49ers got the wrong guy?
If you’re somehow still on the fence, just look at the 49ers and Chiefs and the hopes of each team winning a Super Bowl this season. Both teams are almost identical in everything they do on both sides of the ball. Yet, if the 49ers make the Super Bowl, it’s because of Colin Kaepernick and the defense. If the Chiefs make the Super Bowl, it’s because of Jamal Charles and their defense.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.