Colin Kaepernick

QBs rarely show much improvement at Colin Kaepernick’s age, but Steve Young was an exception

Colin Kaepernick 2014 49ers

Colin Kaepernick is changing up his offseason workout plans with hopes that it will improve his game. Matt Barrows reported on the plan to work out in Arizona with Kurt Warner (plus Steve Young and Trent Difler):

Warner won’t be on hand every day. But he’ll meet with Kaepernick a few times a week, starting next week, to meticulously go over film, chart plays on a white board and discuss the mental aspects of the game. The next day, Kaepernick will head out to the practice field to apply what he’s learned…

What he hasn’t had is the intense, quarterback-specific education he will receive this winter. He’ll work on what quarterback experts call his “platform” – the way he stands in the pocket, which should help him slide forward, backward and to the side away from pressure while still keeping his eyes downfield.

Biomechanics experts will help him tighten his delivery and clean up his footwork.

Switching from a primary focus on the physical tools to quarterback-specific skills can’t hurt. Kaepernick is coming off his worst season as a pro, and at times he looked to have regressed in terms of pocket awareness and reading defenses.

It all leads to this question: How much more can Kaepernick develop as a quarterback?

To get a baseline of how much other quarterbacks the same age as Kaepernick have improved, I ran a search on Pro-Football Reference for players with at least 475 passing attempts during their age 24 to 27 seasons who have a QB rating of at least 71. Then I looked at how their completion percentage and passer rating changed during their next three seasons and compared how they did during those to the previous years.

I excluded guys who had already lost their starting position prior to their age 28 to 30 seasons, and guys that did not have at least two seasons of data after age 27. There were four guys in the sample that were out of football after turning 29. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan have only completed their age 29 seasons, but were included. In all, I included 76 post-merger quarterbacks.

Here are the full results for the sample:

 Cmp% QB Rating  Cmp% QB Rating
Average 59.6 82.4 0.8 0.5
Max 67.5 112.7 11.75 33.2
Min 50.2 56.4 -7.79 -24.3
Median 59.5 82.2 0.495 0.35

There is a little bit of an improvement in both completion percentage and quarterback rating but both are minimal. For completion percentage, 19 quarterbacks got worse, 43 got better and 11 stayed the same. Of the quarterbacks who improved, 26 were just 1-3% better. The results were similar for quarterback rating — 22 got worse, 38 better and 16 stayed the same. About half of the quarterbacks improved their numbers during their age 28-30 seasons.

Let’s restrict the sample of quarterbacks that are within 10 points of the quarterback rating that Kaepernick has posted in his career (90.6), to perhaps get a better idea of how “good” quarterbacks progress during the same age range. Here are the results from that sample:

   Cmp% QB Rating  Cmp% QB Rating
Average 60.7 85.7 -0.04 -1.2
Max 112.7 112.7 6.9 16.8
Min 58.3 58.3 -7.8 -24.3
Median 85.1 85.1 -0.1 0.2

Things look decidedly worse. Instead of slight improvements, there are now slight declines in both completion percentage and quarterback rating. As far as completion percentage, 17 quarterbacks got worse, 18 got better and 8 stayed the same. Of the quarterbacks who improved, 26 were between just 1-3% better. It was the same story for quarterback rating: 15 got worse, 21 improved, 7 stayed the same. Looking at players closer to stats that Kaepernick has posted so far, about 40% improved their numbers during their age 28-30 seasons.

Will No. 7 follow in No. 8’s footsteps?

There are some interesting specific cases that came up while I was doing this, including a couple of the quarterbacks he will work with in Arizona. The absolute best improvement was by none other than Steve Young, who had a completion percentage of 53.4% and a quarterback rating of 71.3 during his age 24-27 seasons, and improved that to 65.1% and a rating of 104.5.

Trent Dilfer also showed decent improvement during this period, increasing his completion percentage by three points and his quarter back rating by five. On the downside, Daunte Culpepper illustrates how fast things can go downhill. Although his problems were more injury-related, he lost 4 points on his completion percentage and 17 points on his quarterback rating.

Looking at what has happened in the past, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Kaepernick gets better over the next few seasons. With the right coaching, hard work and a bit of luck, he can still fulfill the promise that he shown. However, a drastic improvement would make place him in rare company.

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