For the next few weeks before we get to focus on the NFL Draft, I’ll be laying the tracks for the RotoExperts Hype Train to talk about some players who may end up being buzzed-about names heading into Fantasy draft season. This week, let’s discuss Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback who continues to improve each season, and is now given a fresh start under a new coaching staff who will have to figure out how to deploy one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league.
Back in 2012, Colin Kaepernick was called upon to take over for the injured Alex Smith, the starting QB who piloted the Niners to an impressive 6-2 record through the first eight games of the season. Smith was injured in a game against the Rams during Week 10, a game that ended mercifully in a tie. The expectations for Kaepernick going into his first NFL start the following week were something like… “Just don’t screw up too badly, Alex will be back in a week or so. Just keep us afloat.” Well, the team was certainly buoyant under his direction, winning their next two while Smith recovered. Once healthy, Coach Jim Harbaugh decided to keep Smith on the bench in favor of the “hot hand,” something that certainly worked to his advantage. The 49ers rode that hot hand all the way to Super Bowl XLVII. En route, Kaepernick broke an NFL record for rushing yards in a game by a QB, with 181 against the Packers in the Divisional Round. He finished the game with 444 total yards (263 passing) and four touchdowns, cemented his place as the new starting QB of the Niners, making it clear that Alex Smith would be on a new team in 2013.
Over the 2013-2014 seasons, as the clear and full-time starter, Kaepernick continued to grow as a player, topping 3,100 yards and totaling 40 touchdowns through the air while continuing his dual-threat role, rushing for 1,173 yards and five touchdowns. He is as dangerous a quarterback as there is in the league because of his Howitzer arm and unbelievable speed. Remember, this is a guy who is 6’4”, 230 lbs. and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. He was a three-sport star in high school. He is an absolute specimen.
Now, the page has turned for San Francisco after they dispatched Coach Harbaugh after four very successful seasons at the helm of a premier team that went to three NFC Championship games in his first three seasons, going 1-2 in the process. Taking over is former defensive coach Jim Tomsula, who has said that the team plans to use Kaepernick’s full complement of skills this upcoming season. It is assumed that Carlos Hyde, the second-year back, will have the opportunity to claim the spot atop the running back depth chart. The outlook for the Niners this upcoming season is mixed. They play in what is arguably the toughest division in football, and have a tough schedule, facing the AFC North and NFC North teams plus the Falcons and NY Giants. I think high expectations could be 10-6 while less enthusiastic folks might see this team as a 6-10 team all the way. What does it mean for Kaepernick? Well, for starters, the talent around him is average at best. Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are the primary offensive weapons in the passing game and they aren’t exactly scaring anyone from either a real-life or Fantasy Football perspective. With a second-year man expected to carry the mail in Hyde, and spot work from a washed up Reggie Bush, Tomsula’s claim that they’ll be relying on Kaepernick’s full complement of skills seems to stem more from necessity than from an actual choice. I see them as a 6-10 team that will go 2-4 in their division. But, I believe Kaepernick will top his career-best five touchdowns as well, which is good for Fantasy owners rewarded with 6 points for rushing scores. He’ll be hard-pressed to top 350 passing yards more than once or twice, but he should get above 3,000 total passing yards. He will strain to get to 17 passing touchdowns, but the upside is there when you hear about where he’s being drafted…
Hype Train Outlook: Woefully under-hyped. As in, there is no hype at all. According to Fantasy Football Calculator’s recent ADP rankings, Kaepernick is being taken in the 11th round, just one pick before Theodore Bridgewater as the 15th QB off the board. Basically a high-end back-up. Now, every year I try to talk myself into waiting on a quarterback for this exact reason – insane depth – and every year, I panic and end up taking a guy early because I love the idea of a top-flight QB. If you do wait until the eighth or ninth rounds, you’re going to have your pick of the likes of Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, and Kaepernick. Tony Romo might even still be available. When put into context, that means the previous seven or eight rounds of picks were focused on amassing wealth at the WR and RB positions, and possibly one of the Top-2 tight ends. It’s up to you how to build your team, but I think a safe floor for Kaepernick is 3,000 passing yards, about 550 rushing yards, and I’ll go out on a limb and say he has 28 total TDs, seven of which will be on the ground. That isn’t bad from a QB in the 11th, so even if you end up with two of the gents named above and play matchups, you’re looking at pretty solid weekly numbers. If that’s the strategy you plan to go with, you’ll be well served with Kaepernick as your primary Fantasy signal caller. I think he’s poised for another very solid statistical season even if his team proves to be nothing more than lottery team material.