Over the course of the last year, Colin Kaepernick has been in so many headlines for his stance on not standing during the national anthem (and his recent decision to reverse that next season) that it’s easy to completely forget about his actual on-field performance.
Kaepernick is currently without an NFL team and is still a free agent. And given the way things went south in San Francisco and the fact that he’s almost now 30 years old, it’s really difficult to see him winning a starting quarterback job if he returns to the 49ers or goes somewhere else.
It’s hard to believe that it was a little over four years ago that Kaepernick was the sensation of the NFL world, leading the 49ers through the NFC Playoffs and to an appearance in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens. Kaepernick became a starter for the first time midway through the 2012 season and his dual-threat ability led to some huge games. In his first career postseason start against the Packers, Kaepernick set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (181) and racked up 444 yards of total offense.
Even in a loss in the Super Bowl, his numbers were very impressive: 364 total yards and a touchdown through the air and on the ground.
Kap was on top of the world and there was an enormous amount of people declaring that Kaepernick would run the NFL for the next 5-10 years…
Colin Kaepernick dominates NFL jersey sales for second quarter of 2013 http://t.co/6Wzl14fmZW
— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) July 21, 2013
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick wins ESPY award for best breakthrough athlete; watch show live on ESPN and WatchESPN app
— ESPN 1320 Sacramento (@ESPN1320) July 18, 2013
C Kaepernick off season. Award shows,ESPN Body issue,Playboy Mansion. Good to see him enjoying his new celebrity status. Now let's WIN a SB
— Mike Shumann (@MikeShumann) July 17, 2013
Can't think of a QB I'd take over Kaepernick for the next 10 years
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) February 4, 2013
A lot of great players on the field last night. Colin Kaepernick was as good as any of them. And eventually, he will be the best. #SB47
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) February 4, 2013
Satisfying SB 4 me. Ray Lewis goes out like John Elway (greatest of all time) and Kaepernick looks like the new Elway (greatest of all time)
— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) February 4, 2013
The 49ers will win multiple championships in the next 5 years. Kaepernick will be the best QB in the league within the next 5 years.
— Ty Kelly (@tykelly11) February 4, 2013
But perhaps the most infamous claim came from that of Ron Jaworski, who said that Kaepernick could go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time on ESPN in August 2013.
Given his dominance in the playoffs and how great he looked, it looked like a sure thing he’d at least be a successful player with multiple Pro Bowl appearances. And Kaepernick at least was heading in that direction in the 2013 season as he led the 49ers back to the NFC Championship game where they lost in the closing stages to the Seattle Seahawks.
Since that season though, Kaepernick has fallen juuuuuuust short of being mentioned in the same breath as Brady, Montana, Manning, Elway, and Brees. He’s never thrown for 3,500 yards in a season, never exceeded 21 touchdowns, and his QB rating hasn’t gotten close to the 2012 season when he wowed everyone in the football world. And perhaps the most depressing statistic of all, he was benched for Blaine Gabbert last season.
It’s fair to say that nobody expected Kaepernick to fall as far as he has in the last four years. There are numerous factors that explain the reason why. The 49ers lost a ton of talent as a team overall in a player exodus the likes of which we may have never seen before. Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan and was replaced by Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, which are decisions that don’t exactly scream quarterback growth and stability. Kaepernick himself clearly has regressed as a passer in that time. And finally, the front office hasn’t exactly been able to steer the ship back in the right direction.
At the time, Jaworski’s comments set off the ESPN Echo Chamber in full effect and as silly as it seemed then (and as crazy as it seems now) it actually became the biggest sports story in the country at the time. Jaworski’s comments were picked up by almost every major outlet and the debate about Kaepernick’s projected greatness was out in full force.
Perhaps that was too big of a mantle to place on someone who had started just 7 games in his professional career and maybe it’s a lesson to be a bit more conservative when trying to project a player’s prospects after such a small sample size. Even though Kaepernick’s future success was a near certainty to everyone, it’s a reminder that there are no certainties in sports.