Last time I waded into Colin Kaepernick/Alex Smith infested waters, I was accused of “cherry-picking” certain statistics to prove my point. And so, what I’m presenting to you is every relevant statistical measure of the two quarterbacks.
Now this breeds a number of problems, chiefly that I have decided what is “relevant” and that Smith has 75 career starts, where as Kaepernick has only four. There is no way around either of these concerns. However, I’ve tried to account for all statistical outputs by which we measure a quarterback’s success. This includes team stats, individual player stats, as well as opponent value. I’ve also limited the stats to just this season. How well Smith played against the Bears in 2009 is of no importance. Nor is how well Smith performed last year–which I’m sure doesn’t sit well. The only way to accurately compare these two is to compare their performance with the same/similar supporting cast.
As for the discrepancy in sample size, all I can do is apologize. I’ll revisit these numbers at season’s end. But, it’ll probably be too late. The Kaepernick-led 49ers will have either met your expectations or not. Which is to say, no amount of evidence will sway your opinion by then, I’m sure.
In any case, here is a statistical comparison provided without commentary. My commentary is provided afterwards for you to use as you will. What I am more interested in is your commentary–how you read these stats. That’s what the comment section is for.
Explanatory Note: Offensive penalties per game is not an official stat, so I couldn’t give you a ranking. And, yes, the colors used in the header are as close to “Red and Gold” as I was willing to try for.
Explanatory Note: These stats, unless noted otherwise, are provided by Pro Football Focus (PFF). The asterisks (*) note would-be-rankings. Sometimes, either Smith or Kaepernick didn’t qualify for certain stats because of limited attempts/snaps, so I provided a ranking that represents where they would stand if their stat qualified. Also note that I’ve provided three different quarterback rating. The traditional NFL model, which most agree is flawed (Read about it HERE). ESPN’s rating, which ”is a statistical measure that incorporates the contexts and details of those throws and what they mean for wins,” (Read about it HERE). And PFF’s rating, which is takes the traditional NFL formula and changes the statistical inputs (Read about it HERE).
Explanatory Note: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) is a stat developed by Football Outsiders (FO). According to FO, DVOA “takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation,” and “it gives a more accurate picture of how much better (or worse) a team really is relative to the rest of the league.” To read DVOA, know that the lower the total score, the better the defense (Zero represents average). If a team’s DVOA is in the negative, that defense is good. If it’s in the positive, the defense is bad. Weighted DVOA is adjusted to give more weight to more recent games. That is, games earlier in the season do not affect a team’s DVOA as much as later games. Read more about DVOA HERE.
I’ve given you both. “Weighted Through Week Played” represents the opponent’s weighted DVOA during the week of the matchup. “Overall” is the team’s current, unweighted DVOA. I’ve also given you rank, which is a very easy means of determining the quality of an opponent both at the time of the match up and now.
When looking at the numbers it is apparent that Kaepernick is no worse than Smith and that Smith is no better than Kaepernick. With Smith, the 49ers had fewer offensive penalties and possessed the ball longer, but Smith had the luxury of facing weaker defenses. The argument could be made that Kaepernick is the better passer now. He throws the ball with greater accuracy while under pressure and while attempting throws of 20 or more yards. He takes fewer sacks (though perhaps more safeties) and he doesn’t make mistakes.That said, I don’t believe the 49ers are any better with Kaepernick than they are with Smith.
If you think Smith would have beaten the Rams in Week 13, look to his performance in Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings. The two games are almost identical. Both were played on the road, in domes, in cities that are roughly four-hour flights from San Francisco. Both featured opponents whose defenses were ranked 13th in their respective weeks. In both weeks, the 49ers netted 191 yards in the air. Both Smith and Kaepernick fumbled the ball. The biggest difference in the two games is rushing yards. Against the Rams, the 49ers rushed for 148 yards, 84 of which belong to Kaepernick. Given Smith’s performance against a similar opponent, I think it is fair to say that the 49ers don’t win the game with him. Sure, perhaps Smith doesn’t botch the pitch to Ted Ginn. But he also doesn’t account for sheer yardage that Kaepernick does. That has to count for something. Whether that’s worth seven points, I can’t tell you. But Kaepernick’s 50 yard scramble would have netted as much were it not for an untimely drop by Delanie Walker.
In any case, that the 49ers are 3-1 with Kaepernick as a starter suggests that the team is indeed no better or worse without him. That Kaepernick’s stats are equal to, if not better than, those of Smith further suggests that they are essentially the same quarterback. This, I believe, has been the catalyst for the change. If after only four career starts, Kaepernick has shown himself to be as good as Smith after 75 starts, what is his limit?