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Colin Kaepernick Is Good at a Lot of Things — Except Throwing a Football

Michael Lombardi looks at the on-field reasons for Kaepernick’s continued job search on the latest ‘GM Street’

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

During an offseason where Mike Glennon and Josh McCown have found homes, Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job. He threw 16 touchdowns against four interceptions last season and has made deep playoff runs in multiple years. What gives? You might be thinking that Kaepernick is being shut out by coaches around the league only for his decision to kneel during the national anthem last season, but Michael Lombardi has another possible explanation: Kaepernick is a unique player — gifted in some areas, woeful in others — and requires a very specific system to be effective.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Kaepernick’s Best Seasons Were Four Years Ago

Michael Lombardi: His first 32 games [in the NFL], he was a legitimate quarterback. He averaged almost 8 yards per attempt. He threw 31 touchdowns; he threw 11 interceptions. But mostly telling during that time, he was also challenging the defense with his feet. He would run the football. He had 157 carries for 937 yards. He had a long [run] of 50.

Then he becomes Colin Kaepernick, the star. Goes to the Super Bowl, everything is expected of him. And the last two years … his numbers have dwindled [and] that’s why he’s not being signed.

He’s Not a Great Passer

Lombardi: He can’t live on his arm. His accuracy is horrendous, OK? Horrendous. When he has to throw the ball further than 10 yards down the field, his numbers shrink below 50 percent. He’s bad between 10 and 20 yards. The guy is not a very good quarterback. He has to run a certain system, which he did his first few years, [and] threaten with his feet. Now, when he has to play quarterback because he’s not running anymore, he’s looking for a job. … I think really when you look at this player and you study him, the system of offense that he wants to run has to involve his feet. He doesn’t make enough throws with his arm.

He Struggles Against Complex Defenses

Lombardi: When you evaluate quarterbacks, you’ve got to evaluate them on certain games where the game is going very fast. Third down is the play. When you look at Kaepernick on the third down and the defenses are mixed, it becomes problematic for him. On first down, it’s a pretty easy defense, everybody is pretty standard. That’s why first down is the best down to throw the football, because the defenses are easy to read. On third down, it becomes a more complex game. He can’t execute that.

Look at the tape, look at the numbers, there’s no reason over the last 37 games you can justify. He averages under 7 yards per attempt. … What am I getting if I sign him?

Now, here’s the reality, why isn’t he a backup quarterback? Well, he probably doesn’t want to take a backup salary. And as a backup, he’s got to fit the offense for the starter. That’s a problem.