Colin Kaepernick's value in the aftermath of Michael Crabtree's recent injury has understandably become a topic among observers and fantasy owners. And that became true immediately after Crabtree tore his Achilles on May 21. It also served to remind us how dramatically Kaepernick's fantasy stock has risen since Week 11 of the 2012 regular season.
Until that time, the second-year pro had experienced a quiet career, and entered November of 2012 with a total of just five passing attempts, while rushing twice for an unsightly minus two yards. However, his career script received a mammoth alteration when incumbent Alex Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams on November 11th. That is when we began to witness the large degree of proficiency that Kaepernick would deliver as an NFL starter.
Kaepernick Redefined The 49er Offense
He proceeded to complete 11 of 17 passes for 117 yards versus St. Louis, while amassing 66 yards on the ground. Eight days later, he received his first career start against Chicago, and pierced the formidable Bear defense for 243 yards and two TDs through the air. He later was named as Smith’s replacement on November 28, and ultimately threw for 1,849 yards and 10 TDs in the team’s seven final regular season contests. Kaepernick also exhibited his adeptness as a rusher, by accruing 415 yards and five scores on the ground. Most importantly, he elevated the potency and success of San Francisco’s offense, and his mammoth contributions helped propel the 49ers during their journey to the doorstep of a World Championship.
Kaepernick Made Crabtree More Effective
But despite the overwhelming evidence of Kaepernick's playmaking ability, there is unnecessary concern regarding how his value will be impacted by Crabtree's absence. Even though the WR will be prohibited from performing throughout much of the regular season (if not all of it), it is not necessary to downgrade Kaepernick's fantasy value as a result.
That decision would underestimate Kaepernick's exceptional abilities by a considerable margin. And utilize the premise that Crabtree was responsible for Kaepernick’s success, when in fact it was the other way around. It is important to remember how significantly Crabtree's value soared in the final seven of the 2012 regular season once Kaepernick ascended into the starting role. And an analysis of Crabtree's numbers before and after he began connecting with Kaepernick clearly show it. Crabtree was well on the way toward delivering yet another season that consisted of only moderate production before Kaepernick entered the lineup, and was on pace for final numbers that would reside in the neighborhood of his three-year averages from 2009-2011 - 59 receptions, 749 yards, and four TDs. But once Kaepernick moved under center, Crabtree's production soared. 595 of the 1,105 yards that he accumulated last season occurred during the final seven regular season contests, and he then collected 20 receptions for 285 yards and three TDs in San Francisco's three postseason contests.
Crabtree's unprecedented success occurred in great part because of Kaepernick’s adeptness and willingness to generate deeper throws than Smith had been executing before Jim Harbaugh promoted Kaepernick into the starting slot. Both Kaepernick and Smith threw exactly 218 passes during the 2012 regular season, but 32 of Kaepernick’s were at least 20 yards, while Smith managed just 22. San Francisco was not generating the consistent threat of an explosive downfield aerial attack with Smith in the lineup, and it only developed once Kaepernick had replaced him. Kaepernick’s effectiveness in delivering deeper throws then capitalized on Crabtree’s ability to accumulate yardage after the duo connected on their passes. That in turn is what propelled Crabtree's enhanced production during the 10 games in which Kaepernick was his starting QB.
Kaepernick certainly would have targeted Crabtree with frequency once again if the Achilles tear had not occurred. And Crabtree’s prolonged absence from the 49ers’ lineup will essentially vaporize the wideout's fantasy value. However, any assertion that Kaepernick’s success in advancing the ball through opposing defenses was largely dependent upon Crabtree, vastly underrates Kaepernick’s diverse abilities.
Boldin Will Become A Reliable Weapon
It also suggests that Kaepernick is now without capable receivers, even though that is hardly the case. His challenge would have been increased significantly if the 49ers had not secured former Raven Anquan Boldin in March. Instead, the 10-year veteran will provide Kaepernick with a dependable weapon who has exceeded 1,000 yards five times in his career, and has surpassed 835 yards in nine different seasons. Boldin has also averaged at least 13 YPC in six different years, including 2012 when he amassed an average of 14.2. Even though he delivered just one 100-yard performance and four TDs last season, that does not include his contributions during Baltimore's sojourn through the postseason, when he accumulated 100+ yards twice, and scored four times. This is not to suggest that Boldin can seamlessly alter his strengths to correspond with Crabtree’s, or execute the same specific role that Crabtree would have performed within the offense. But Boldin has repeatedly proven his reliability during his career, and will be a frequent and productive target for Kaepernick.
Kaepernick Can Target Vernon Davis Frequently
As will Vernon Davis, who collected six passes for 83 yards in Kaepernick’s coming out party versus the Bears. It is true that he only managed a total of six catches for 61 yards in the next six contests combined. So why should you believe that Kaepernick will now rely upon Davis with enough consistency for both players to amass high quality numbers? First, because the tandem combined on 12 passes and 254 yards in three postseason contests, with Davis garnering 11 catches for 210 yards against the Falcons and Ravens. Plus, Harbaugh and his offensive staff will almost assuredly know that they need to keep Davis and his sizable talent entrenched as an integral part of the team’s attack this season. You should expect Davis to be heavily involved in the 49ers' offensive approach, similar to the role that he experienced during the team's postseason run.
Kaepernick Remains A Top 7 QB
The bottom line from here is that Kaepernick's duel threat capabilities are being regarded too lightly by
some analysts, even though they were readily apparent on a consistent basis once he became San Francisco’s QB1. If unnecessary concerns about his ability to stockpile fantasy points this season cause other owners to become more hesitant in selecting him, that can play to your advantage on your draft day. He clearly transformed the 49er offense by adding an enhanced vertical threat to the team’s attack. All through displaying accuracy on deeper throws, and subsequently providing the coaching staff with confidence to build more downfield passing into the game plan. That is what elevated Crabtree’s fantasy relevance, and Kaepernick is fully capable of remaining highly productive without the former Red Raider. He still possesses potent receiving weapons in Boldin and Davis, along with the 49ers' capable stable running backs. And he will utilize those remaining options, along with any additional targets that are eventually added to the roster before the regular season commences. Plus, he will supplement his passing success with favorable rushing numbers whenever that is needed, or if he is called upon to do so.
The convergence of Kaepernick’s talent with the opportunity to spearhead the San Francisco offense dictates that he is worthy of selection in the fifth round of this summer’s drafts. Given the extreme depth that exists at the QB position, that keeps him locked into the seventh slot among all signal callers, nestled in between Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.