While Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers blogs were exploding with Jim Harbaugh rumors earlier this week, it reminded me of a similarly ridiculous debate waged by Niner Faithful all throughout the regular season, and even in my own home. Should the 49ers have stuck with Alex Smith, or were they right in choosing Colin Kaepernick?
Let’s start with some numbers, no names. Quarterback A threw for 3,313 yards, 23 TDs and 7 INTs. Quarterback B threw for 3,197 yards with 21 TDs and 8 INTs. Did you guess who was who?
Spoiler alert: Alex Smith posted the better regular season numbers, but Kaepernick’s team had the better regular season record (12-4), and played in two more playoff games than Smith’s Kansas City Chiefs, who blew a 28-point lead against the Indianapolis Colts, although blaming Smith for that loss would be ridiculous. With injuries piling up as the game progressed, Smith still threw for 378 yards and 4 touchdowns with no picks. So, which quarterback would you prefer?
I’ll state my position first. To me, Kaepernick gives the 49ers a more expansive offense because of his arm and legs. In less than 2 full seasons as a starter, he’s led the 49ers to back-to-back NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. While I have written about his need to progress as a pocket passer, I’ve also stated I believe his third-year growth will mirror that of Cam Newton. The 49ers have prioritized extending Kap’s contract, and the upside he presents makes this decision relatively easy in my opinion.
My father, a life-long 49ers fan in his sixties, has always been partial to Alex Smith. He felt Alex was dealt a bad hand his first several years in the league with a rotating door of offensive coordinators and the utter misfortune of having to play for Nolan and Singletary. When Harbaugh arrived, Smith turned into a winner, leading the 49ers to a 13-3 record and NFC title game, which they arguably could have won despite special teams gaffes from Kyle Williams. Before his concussion in 2012 against the St. Louis Rams, the Niners were a title contender and Smith was coming off maybe the best performance of his career on a Monday night game against the Arizona Cardinals where he went 18/19 for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns. This year, he took a Chiefs team that went 2-14 the year before to the playoffs and made his first trip to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler. While he has been labeled a game manager, Smith has had one of the best winning percentages for a quarterback since 2011, going 30-10-1.
All that said, it’s far too early to say San Francisco was right or wrong in their decision. One year does not a good or bad move make. Give each quarterback another couple years in their perspective systems and then we can have the debate. Until then, making definitive statements on which QB gives the 49ers the best chance in their Quest for Six is downright stupid. So, as Mike Ditka would say, “STOP IT!”
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