Colin Kaepernick is entering the 2013 NFL season as the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers for the first time in his short career. Though he showed an abundance of upside after taking over for Alex Smith, in a controversial and an much questioned decision by coach Jim Harbaugh and took the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl, there are a lot of question marks that make me think that Kaepernick is going to take a step back and struggle this season.
With the addition of wide out Anquan Boldin this offseason, the 49ers looked to bolster their wide receiving corps. But injuries to Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are going to hurt Kaepernick’s ability to throw the ball deep down field.
Kaepernick needs to improve on his touch passes. Though he has a huge arm and can make deep passes all day long that a receiver can run under and catch, his accuracy and touch on short passes is questionable at best. This issue is going to prove to be imperative in Kaepernick’s performance this year because going into the season the only threat they have to take the top off of the defense is tight end Vernon Davis. With the lack of a deep threat Kaepernick will not be able to just rely on the strength of his arm and will be forced to make accurate passes that need to be placed with delicate touch into spots across the middle of the field.
With the integration of the spread-option offense into the NFL last season most defenses were taken aback and couldn’t figure out how to stop it. With a whole offseason to prepare for the spread-option, I look for defenses to have a better sense of how to stop this, or maybe just contain it better than they did last year. This will make Kaepernick’s innate ability to run the spread option a lot more difficult. I think with the preparation defenses have been able to make that Kaepernick (as well as all spread-option quarterbacks) is going to be better contained and hit a lot more to make him think twice about keeping the ball instead of handing it off.
Stack the lack of bonafide pass catchers on top of questionable touch passing ability and mix that with a dash of better game planning for the spread-option, and that alone is a recipe for a little step back. But add the division that the 49ers play in on top of that wobbling stack of cons, and that equals big struggles in my mind. Kaepernick plays with one of the best defenses in the league, but he also has to face three of the toughest defenses two times each. The Seattle Seahawks look like they have the best defenses in the league and by far have the best secondary. The Arizona Cardinals may have had a terrible record last year, but you cannot say it was due to a lack of defense. Finally you have the St. Louis Rams, who tied and then beat the 49ers last year.
All in all I think Kaepernick is going to have a really good career, but I expect this year to be full of struggles leading to a big step back. Possibly the biggest step back of all second-year starters.