In Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick scored just over 36 fantasy points.
During the previous four weeks, however, he’s scored just 37.
It’s still relatively early, but there have been a lot of disappointing stars in fantasy. Kaepernick has undoubtedly been one of them. After exploding onto the scene last year in place of Alex Smith, Kaepernick was highly regarded as one of the top-10 fantasy signal callers heading into the season. I personally had him outside that range, but I understand the reasoning. A guy on a very good time with a rocket for an arm, and of course, that dual threat ability, there is a lot to like here. If you extrapolated his 2012 numbers to a full 16-game season (he took over for Smith in Week 9), Kaepernick would have finished the season with over 3,600 passing yards, over 500 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns, a worthy stat line from a number one fantasy quarterback. The weapons were there for him to succeed, opposing defenses did not know how to match his speed and power in that read-option, which resulted in some appealing fantasy production in his first season as a starting quarterback. However, through five starts in 2013, Kaepernick hasn’t exactly been producing like the quarterback they drafted this past summer. The question is why? I tried to dig up some reasoning.
One of the reasons Kaepernick was so dominant last season was due to the versatility of the offense. Of course, Kaepernick has the arm strength and accuracy to beat you through the air, but he is most dangerous when he is running with the football out in the open field. The read-option is the ideal playing style to suit Kaepernick’s athleticism, and while it appeared he lit up the world while in the zone-read, perhaps he wasn’t as good as we think. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he ran the ball well when he had the opportunity, but the amount of rushes he saw may have been a tad overhyped. According to Pro Football Focus, Kaepernick only averaged two designed runs per contest last season, while he scrambled 17 times. Rich Hribar does a fantastic job going deeper in this context, and it’s definitely worth a read. As for the read-option. the 49ers called 49 plays of that variety last year (also according to PFF), averaging 4.5 yards per clip. And of course, the read-option really took storm during that playoff game against the Packers, in which Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, and half of those yards came when the 49ers operated out of the option. Now, fast forward to 2013, and not only are the 49ers not running the zone-read nearly as much, but when they do run it, they are less effective, averaging just 1.1 yards per carry. When you take away the mobility of Kaepernick, his upside is certainly capped, which is what we have been seeing to start the season.
The Crabtree Effect
When the news broke that Michael Crabtree suffered an Achilles injury this past May, I’m not going to lie, it forced me to lower my preseason ranking of Kaepernick. His initial timetable was he’d be sidelined until at least Week 10, but to be honest, I’m not sold that he will even suit up at all this season. It’s been a tough blow the Kaepernick, as well as the 49ers receiving corp. It was a massive shot to Kaepernick’s value, as the two developed quite the rapport a season ago. In games where both Crabtree and Kaepernick were on the field together, Crabtree was targeted 71 times. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, when Kaepernick threw the ball to Crabtree, he posted a completion percentage of 68.5 with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. When throwing to literally any other receiver, however, Kaepernick sported a completion percentage of 58.4 with just one score and four interceptions. You can clearly see how badly the 49ers miss Crabtree’s presence in their offense this season. Outside of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, Kaepernick has hardly even looked at anyone else in the passing game. Guys like Kyle Williams (18 targets) and Jon Baldwin (4 targets) haven’t exactly been producing for the 49ers’ passing attack.
Last season, Kaepernick averaged about 26 pass attempts per contest, which is a solid number for a fantasy quarterback, but I personally look for some of the most volume when selecting my starting signal caller. Also, the 49ers offense ran the third-fewest offensive plays (60.8) per contest last season. This year, Kaepernick hasn’t exactly been slinging the ball around the field, as he ranks just slightly inside the top-25 in passing attempts (132). The 49ers are clearly a run-first team, and considering the fact that running back Frank Gore has really started to come on over the last two weeks, I don’t see them shying away from that anytime soon. I mean, they haven’t in year’s past, so why start now? I don’t think the 49ers want Kaepernick tossing the ball 30-plus times every game, nor do I believe they need him to, which hinders his fantasy upside a bit.
It’s still relatively early, and Kaepernick clearly has the tools to be successful, but the situation around him clearly explains why fantasy owners would be foolish to believe he will finish as a top-10 fantasy quarterback this season.
Especially when you consider how deep the position is.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.