January 27, 2013

Too many NFL teams missed on 49ers' Kaepernick

Even San Francisco didn't know it had a quarterback who would take a team to the Super Bowl.

NEW ORLEANS -- Colin Kaepernick should be in Jacksonville or Tennessee or Kansas City or Philadelphia. Then, maybe the Jaguars or Titans or Chiefs or Eagles would have arrived here at Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. Maybe not, but there is no way Kaepernick should have lasted until the 36th pick in the 2011 draft when the 49ers traded up to get him.

This kid scored a 37 on the Wonderlic test. He had a perfect 10 on the mental quickness test. He is 6-foot-5, 233 pounds, and he ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. The scouting report predicted success. His résumé at Nevada did, too, as he threw for 10,098 yards and 82 touchdowns while running for another 4,112 yards and 59 touchdowns.

Yet, five quarterbacks were drafted before Kaepernick.

"I was just hoping one team would take a chance on me," Kaepernick said Sunday after the 49ers arrived in New Orleans.

Cam Newton was offensive rookie of the year last season. Andy Dalton was a Pro Bowler in 2011. Kaepernick rode the bench, with only five pass attempts and two rushing attempts to show for his rookie campaign.

In truth, the 49ers weren't sure what they had in Kaepernick.

He wasn't great in practice, and he hadn't done anything in two training camps to indicate he was ready even to compete for the starting job. There was one play in the preseason against the Vikings last summer when, on a read option, he faked a handoff to LaMichael James and ran 78 yards, doing his best Adrian Peterson imitation.

But Alex Smith was the 49ers' starter, and if Smith hadn't suffered a concussion in a Nov. 11 game against St. Louis, Kaepernick still would serve as Smith's backup. And the 49ers would be home instead of settling in at the New Orleans Marriott for Super Bowl week.

Smith was 6-2-1 in nine starts this season, with a 70.2 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 104.1 passer rating. But now in his eighth season, after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, it is obvious Smith doesn't have "it," whatever "it" is.

But because Smith is popular with his teammates, Kaepernick had to win over the 49ers. It didn't take Kaepernick long.

"I think the Chicago game [in Kaepernick's first start]," 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said. "They have a great defense, and the way he played that game, it said a lot about him.... One thing I've said about him from the start is he's always come off as a guy who has a lot of confidence. I'm not just saying that. You can really feel it by the way he acts and talks."

Though Kaepernick has only nine starts, there is no question about who the 49ers' present and future franchise quarterback is. The 49ers finally have their next Steve Young -- who was the next Joe Montana -- after 13 years and 10 other starting quarterbacks, including Smith.

The 49ers are back in the Super Bowl after an even longer wait -- 18 years. Kaepernick was the final piece in the 49ers' rebirth.

"Colin's play has been outstanding," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that, and he, like the rest of the guys on the team, is focused on the opportunity to play and win a championship."

More than half the teams in the league would give up a first-round pick today to get Kaepernick. He has star written all over him, even if it isn't in any of his many tattoos.

Kaepernick is 9-2 in his nine starts, including two playoff victories. He has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,104 yards, 13 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 101.2 passer rating. He has run for another 457 yards and four touchdowns on 61 carries.

He is the favorite to win the Super Bowl MVP award, with 7-4 odds, according to Bovada.

The only question left unanswered is: How in the world did so many quarterback-needy teams miss on him?

Charean Williams


Twitter @NFLCharean

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