Colin Kaepernick is dumb – for his position

Alan Truex

It’s really not such a terrible thing to be Dumbest Quarterback in the NFL.  To attract that sort of notoriety you’d have to be in a very visible situation, no doubt having earned millions of dollars.

The NFL’s personnel departments will tell you that most NFL starting quarterbacks are highly intelligent, their average IQ being 130.  According to historians, the average IQ of the U.S. presidents is no higher.  By the way, NFL offensive linemen are, on average, smarter than presidents or quarterbacks.

It’s often been said – especially by Republicans — that high intelligence is not essential for a successful presidency, and so it is with quarterbacks.

The smartest quarterback in the NFL might be the New York Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard grad but never a Pro Bowler.  “He spends more time with the Rubik’s cube than watching film,” said teammate Brandon Marshall, smiling but perhaps making a pointed point.

I doubt Terry Bradshaw has an IQ near 130, but he won four Super Bowls.  His supreme physical gifts made up for not being a speed-reader of defenses.

Still, there’s no doubt Bradshaw is smarter than the average American, and I would say the same for San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick.  A fairly bright guy, but dumb for his position.

As the Arizona Cardinals prepared for their game Sunday against the 49ers, they studied video on Kaepernick.  The defensive backs saw interception potential.  They saw that although Kaepernick has a very strong arm, he sometimes does not zip the ball on his throws to the sidelines.

Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson said publicly: “We’re going to make him throw outside because that’s where he has trouble.”

The Cardinals were playing psychological games with Kaepernick.  Apparently they succeeded in getting inside his head, whatever is there.

The 49rs quarterback threw two pick sixes in the first six minutes of Sunday’s 47-7 loss.  It was an historic achievement:  fastest pair of pick-sixes since 1925.

Of Kaepernick’s passes that traveled more than 10 yards, three were caught by Cardinals, one by 49ers.

To his credit, Kaepernick politely spoke to reporters after the game and calculated – showing some mathematical proficiency as well as some self- awareness — that the defeat was “one hundred percent my fault.”

But doubts continue to grow that he has enough intelligence to lead a team to a Super Bowl Championship, though he came very close in his first season as a starter, 2012.

I first wondered about Kappy’s brain when he was drafted out of Nevada on the second round in 2011 even though the scouts said he had “first-round talent.”

They also said he was “a project,” that he would take time to transition from the run-based Pistol offense in college to the multiple pro sets. 

Most quarterbacks improve throughout their first 3-4 years in pro ball, though they will have setbacks and injuries, bumps along the way.  Once Kaepernick won the 49ers’ starting job – pushing Alex Smith toward Kansas City in 2012– he played very well.  All the way to the Super Bowl.

But he regressed in 2013, as defenses sharpened their tactics against the zone-read running quarterbacks such as Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III.  When kept in the pocket, Kaepernick tended to flounder and fumble, unable to decipher defenses and locate his second and third targets.

His decline continued in 2014 when his passer rating of 86.4 ranked ninth in the 16-team NFC.

The 49er coaches wanted Kaepernick to speed up the process of delivering the ball to  receivers.   So he worked with Kurt Warner in the off-season to smooth out his mechanics.  And the playbook was pared down to give him less to think about.

But Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, who scored in the Sunday pick-nic, observed:  “Their passing game has been simplified so much, it was easy for us to anticipate routes, get some good breaks on the ball.”

The 49ers can thank the Cardinals for sharing.  Now they know more about what to work on with Colin.

We’ve seen this before:  quarterbacks who can run fast and throw far but can’t think quickly enough.  Some, like Bradshaw and Tony Romo, are boneheads in their early years but became better thinkers as they mature.

Sadly, there are others – Jeff George, Vince Young, Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell  – who never learn.   Kaepernick is only 27.  Let’s be optimistic and say it’s too soon to say he can’t get smarter.

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