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49ers' Kaepernick outruns expectations

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 5:06 p.m. CDT

(MCT) NEW ORLEANS _ To say that running quarterbacks have been greeted by skepticism from some veteran personnel men in the National Football League would be an understatement.

Two years ago, a leading executive in personnel for an NFC team paused to consider a quarterback class that included great athletes such as Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor.

"You can have all those guys," the exasperated scout finally exclaimed. "When one of them wins the Super Bowl, then I'll go to one of those spread-offense guys. Until they do, I'm sticking with the Sam Bradfords."

Bradford, the St. Louis Rams' selection with the first choice in the 2010 draft, represents the pure pocket passer that has been the NFL's prototype forever.

On Sunday, Kaepernick will have a chance not only to lead the San Francisco past the Baltimore Ravens in the 47th Super Bowl but also stick it in the face of doubters across the league.

Kaepernick is the most intriguing player in this Super Bowl. He might be the most intriguing player the NFL's championship game has seen in years.

Baltimore's rock-ribbed defense, girded by possible Hall of Fame players at all three levels, will have had two weeks to prepare for the flying feet and laser-like arm of Kaepernick.

If defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, not to mention outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, can't slow Kaepernick, who can?

Kaepernick's seven starts in the regular season are the third fewest for a Super Bowl starting quarterback behind only the Rams' Vince Ferragamo (five) and the Giants' Jeff Hostetler (four).

He joins Ferragamo, the Rams' Kurt Warner and the Patriots' Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl in the season of their first start.

One way to assess what Kaepernick has done would be to compare his first nine starts to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who ranks as the NFL's all-time leader in passer rating during the regular season (104.9) and postseason (103.4).

Both players took over talented teams that had lost in the NFC Championship Game the year before. Rodgers had apprenticed behind Brett Favre for three seasons whereas Kaepernick sat behind Alex Smith for a year and a half.

In his first nine starts, Kaepernick has passed for 2,310 yards (99.8 rating) and rushed for 617 yards (7.6). He has led the 49ers to a 7-2 record, outplaying both Rodgers and Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the playoffs.

In his first nine starts, Rodgers passed for 2,124 yards (93.3) and rushed for 125 (3.8). The Packers were 4-5.

Kaepernick was the 36th choice in the 2011 draft, the sixth quarterback taken. Preceding him were Newton (one), Locker (eight), Blaine Gabbert (10), Christian Ponder (12) and Andy Dalton (35).

Besides Taylor, a scrambler who went in the sixth round to the Ravens, other quarterbacks of note in that draft were Ryan Mallett (74) and Ricky Stanzi (135).

In the weeks leading up to the draft, the Journal Sentinel asked 24 personnel people with national orientation to rank their top five quarterbacks on a 1-to-5 basis. A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote was worth four and so on.

Here were the results of that poll:

Gabbert, 105 points (16 firsts).

Newton, 100 (eight).

Locker, 43.

Mallett, 43.

Ponder, 37.

Dalton, 15.

Kaepernick, 11.

Stanzi, seven.

The only quarterback whose draft selection was out of whack with the consensus was Mallett. Kaepernick drew two third-place votes, one fourth and three fifths.

On Sunday, one of the personnel directors who gave Kaepernick a third was asked to rate the group again based on what is now known. He put Newton first, Kaepernick second and Dalton third, adding that the rest of the order didn't matter because none was good enough.

"'Kap' had all the physical tools on the field and all the off-field intangibles," the scout said. "He just needed time to develop into a pro style. But now that the 49ers are basically running his college offense, there is no learning curve. He is dynamic in it.

"It's the same scenario as the Redskins with RGIII (Robert Griffin). He flourished because they ran his offense. It would have been a struggle for him otherwise."

Here are the passer ratings for those quarterbacks in college: Newton (122.4), Mallett (100.5), Kaepernick (97.3), Dalton (94.6), Stanzi (92.1), Gabbert (89.5), Ponder (87.2) and Locker (77.5). Here are their passer ratings and records as a starter, including playoffs, after two NFL seasons: Kaepernick (99.4, 7-2), Newton (85.3, 13-19), Dalton (81.7, 19-15), Locker (78.4, 4-7), Ponder (77.1, 12-14), Gabbert (70.2, 5-19), Mallett (four pass attempts) and Stanzi (hasn't played).

And, finally, here are the rushing totals for the top six: Newton (1,447, 5.7), Kaepernick (615, 7.4), Ponder (472, 5.4), Locker (347, 7.1), Dalton (304, 3.3) and Gabbert (154, 2.3).

Kaepernick, in keeping with Rodgers, was no world-beater in his first training camp. He finished the 2011 exhibition campaign with no touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 23.9 rating.

Improving this summer, he had two touchdown passes, no interceptions, a rating of 104.3 and a 78-yard touchdown run.

Of the 18 scouts who discussed Kaepernick before the draft, almost all had a somewhat different viewpoint.

"Athletically, he's very exciting," Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said. "He's one of those that quarterback coaches look to salivate over to see if they can make him into the player they want him to be."

The other personnel man who gave Kaepernick a third-place vote said his pure arm strength ranked behind only Mallett's.

"Cam Newton won the Heisman but to me this guy is as good as Newton," an AFC scout said. "Same type of player. Really came on this year. Tall. Smart. Strong arm. Runs fast. Good runner.

"But he's got a long motion. That's the only thing I didn't like about him. If he can't make it as a quarterback, you could bulk him up and play him at tight end."

Most scouts were more circumspect.

One referred to Kaepernick as a project worthy of just a fourth- or fifth-round draft choice.

Another said he would love to draft him in the fourth round "to find out if the guy can't play."

Said an AFC scouting director: "Aaron Rodgers was a natural passer. This guy is more of an athlete than a thrower. He's got a funky delivery. He's not your prototype. He's like a better Tim Tebow."

Plenty of concerns were expressed about how Kaepernick's four-year starting experience in Nevada coach Chris Ault's zone-read system featuring the "Pistol" backfield would translate to the NFL.

"He's a Joe Webb," another scout said. "He beats you with his feet but can't beat you with his arm. He never reads defenses. All he does is run off the edge. He's a 400-meter athlete, not a 60-meter athlete. He's a strider. He can't change direction. I'm not on board."

One scout with some experience in the Canadian Football League said Kaepernick would be a revelation on the larger fields north of the border.

The key, that scout said, would be for Kaepernick to be coached by a respected teacher such as Norv Turner because he estimated a three-year stay on a team's practice squad would be required.

"I don't think this kid responded real well to Ault," the scout said. "I don't think he liked him. He won't ever say that, but you could see their dynamic on the sideline. Ault can be a real (expletive) to players." But everyone also saw Kaepernick's workout at the combine, which was special.

As a point of reference, here are the numbers put up by Kaepernick (6 feet, 4{ inches, 230 pounds) compared to the numbers for Rodgers (6-2, 223) in 2005.

40-yard dash: Kaepernick (4.53), Rodgers (4.75).

Vertical jump: Kaepernick (32{), Rodgers (34).

Broad jump: Kaepernick (9-7), Rodgers (9-2).

20-yard shuttle: Kaepernick (4.18 seconds), Rodgers (4.54). Three-cone run: Kaepernick (6.85), Rodgers (7.38).

Arm length: Kaepernick (33{), Rodgers (32\).

Hand size: Kaepernick (9[), Rodgers (10[).

Wonderlic intelligence test: Kaepernick (37), Rodgers (35).

The one measurement that seems completely out of place is the fact that Kaepernick has such tiny hands. Of the 18 quarterbacks at the combine, his were the smallest. A month later, at his pro day, they measured 9].

So the stage is set. If Kaepernick, at age 25 and in just his 10th start, overwhelms the Ravens, the rest of the NFL will know it has a major problem on its hands.

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