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Just The Sports: Colin Kaepernick's NFL Draft Prospects: The Prestige of Colin Kaepernick

Just The Sports

Monday, January 31, 2011

Colin Kaepernick's NFL Draft Prospects: The Prestige of Colin Kaepernick

Nothing does revisionist history or illusion quite like college football's Senior Bowl. In the span of one week that is filled with a handful of practices and one meaningless game, the Senior Bowl can make four years of actual play on the field in meaningful games vanish into thin air and can turn a middling college quarterback like former University of Nevada-Reno's Colin Kaepernick into the next great thing.

However, to paraphrase Cutter from The Prestige, the Senior Bowl's trick in making an ordinary player's talent level look extraordinary by making his college past disappear is only the first two parts of any great magic trick. Since making something disappear is not enough, eventually you have to bring it back, which brings us to the third act, or the prestige, of this trick.

For this particular illusion, the prestige of Kaepernick involves reminding people of the real Kaepernick before they think that the hype and buzz surrounding Kaepernick's abilities is an accurate representation of him as a quarterback.

Last season for the Nevada Wolfpack, Kaepernick completed 64.9 percent of his passes, gained 8.4 yards per pass attempt, gained 13.0 yards per completion, and threw 21 touchdown passes (5.8 touchdown percentage) to eight interceptions (2.2 interception percentage). If Kaepernick had put up numbers like that consistently across his four years at Nevada, then he would be a bonafide NFL quarterback prospect worthy of being drafted, but in his other three seasons, he never came close to having a season like he did his senior year.

In his freshman season, Kaepernick was Nevada's primary quarterback for nine games, games in which he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards for the Wolfpack. During those nine games, Kaepernick completed 54.4 percent of his passes, gained 9.0 yards per pass attempt, and threw 19 touchdowns (7.9 touchdown percentage) to two interceptions (.8 interception percentage).

The reason for Kaepernick's extremely high yards per pass attempt average was due to the 16.5 yards he averaged per completion, but because of his low completion percentage, he was a boom-or-bust quarterback his freshman year, thereby reducing his passing efficiency.

For his sophomore season, Kaepernick played in 13 games as Nevada's primary quarterback and completed 54.3 percent of his passes, gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt, and threw 22 touchdowns (5.7 touchdown percentage) to seven interceptions (1.8 interception percentage).

Even though Kaepernick was throwing shorter passes his sophomore season with 13.7 yards per completion, he could still not improve upon his completion percentage from his freshman season.

While playing in 13 games as Nevada's primary quarterback in his junior season, Kaepernick completed 58.9 percent of his passes, gained 7.3 yards per attempt, and threw 20 touchdowns (7.1 touchdown percentage) to six interceptions (2.1 interception percentage).

It took Kaepernick's yards per completion dropping to 12.4, meaning he was throwing shorter and easier to complete passes, before his completion percentage could increase.

As you can see, Kaepernick increased his completion percentage, somewhat artificially, each year from his sophomore season to his junior season and his junior season to his senior campaign, but he started out with such a low completion percentage that even with the improvements, he can still be described as nothing more than a quarterback with average accuracy at best.

For Kaepernick's career as Nevada's primary quarterback, he completed 58.3 percent of his 1,265 passes, gained 8.0 yards per pass attempt, gained 13.7 yards per completion, and threw 82 touchdowns (6.5 touchdown percentage) to 23 interceptions (1.8 interception percentage).

Although not exactly a dangerous passer in college, Kaepernick was very dangerous as a runner, averaging 6.9 yards per pass attempt; as always, remember that sacks in college count against a quarterback's rushing totals. He was also great at keeping his interceptions to a minimum; it is too bad he could not keep his incomplete passes to the same minimum.

Although Kaepernick's entire career was unexceptional, NFL teams might fall victim to recency effect, where the most recently presented items are remembered best, and overrate what Kaepernick did in his senior season, which was his best overall season in college. However, they should understand what an outlier of a season that was for Kaepernick.

In an effort to find out which season of Kaepernick's four years in college was most representative of his true talent level in completion percentage, I separated each season and compared it to the other three seasons.

There were only two seasons that were statistically significantly different from the other three. The first season was his freshman year, where his completion percentage was 54.4 percent, which barely qualified as being statistically significantly different from his other three seasons where he combined to complete 59.3 percent of his passes.

The other season was his senior one, the one in which his completion percentage was 64.9 percent, where there was absolutely no doubt that it was statistically significantly different from his other seasons where he combined to complete just 55.7 percent of his passes. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Kaepernick would ever be able to complete 64.9 percent of his passes in the NFL over the course of his career.

It was Kaepernick's junior season that painted the most accurate portrait of his accuracy, or lack thereof. Kaepernick's junior completion percentage of 58.9 percent was almost identical to his 58.2 completion percentage in his other three seasons. That is the quarterback an NFL team will be getting if one chooses to draft Kaepernick, and it is a quarterback who does not possess the kind of accuracy that will translate to success in the NFL.

All NFL teams should be wary of the small sample size that one week provides in judging in whom to invest millions. The best method of judging a player's pro potential is to look at his entire college career because that will allow a team to have the most information possible about a player. When one does that for Kaepernick, one discovers that the real Kaepernick is an inaccurate passer, who is destined to struggle in the NFL and whose best season in college was a statistical outlier and unreliable in predicting his future going forward.

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