Colin Kaepernick threw 218 passes last regular season, and has thrown 220 passes this regular season. The decline in his production over about the same number of passes has been significant.
Kaepernick’s completions have declined from 136 to 124, which translates to a decline in completion rate from 62.4 percent to 56.4 percent. His yardage has declined from 1,814 to 1,675, which means his yardage per pass has dropped from 8.3 to 7.6. He threw 10 touchdown passes last year to nine this year, his interceptions have doubled from three last year to six this year, he’s been sacked 21 times to 16 times last year, and his passer rating is down from 98.3 to 83.0. Kaepernick has also done less as a runner than he did last year, with his yards per carry average dropping from 6.6 to 5.8, his total rushing yardage dropping from 415 to 310, and his rushing touchdowns declining from five to three.
Add all those issues up, and it would be easy for a young quarterback’s confidence to be shaken. On ESPN’s NFL Matchup, Merril Hoge argued that that’s exactly what has happened. Hoge showed tape of Kaepernick appearing to hesitate when he needed to pull the trigger on passes, perhaps because he’s second-guessing himself. On the play on Sunday when Panthers safety Mike Mitchell sacked Kaepernick, Hoge showed that Kaepernick dropped back, looked in the direction of an open Vance McDonald, and then inexplicably held onto the ball and got sacked.
“That is a completion. The ball should be out. A confident player makes that throw,” Hoge said. “Colin Kaepernick does not. He holds onto the ball. He’s uncertain. He’s unsure.”
Hoge’s fellow analyst Ron Jaworski, who said before the season that Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, agreed with Hoge’s assessment. Jaworski added, however, that he expects Kaepernick to play better when the 49ers’ receivers are healthier.
“His receivers, as I look at the tape, are not doing a good job getting open,” Jaworski said. “They’re going to need to get Mario Manningham healthy and flying down the field, and you’re going to need to get Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis back healthy.”
The 49ers have to hope that Jaworski is right, and that an improved receiving corps will lead to improved play from Kaepernick. Right now, Kaepernick looks more like a young quarterback struggling to figure things out than a star on his way to being one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.