Chip Kelly hiring could breathe new life into Kaepernick's career
Chip Kelly is back on the West Coast. The San Francisco 49ers named the most critiqued coach in football over the last year as their new HC on Thursday, but there are still more questions than answers in the Bay Area. How will Kelly’s zone-based running schemes transfer to an offensive line built on gap schemes the past few seasons (although they ran a little bit more zone under Jim Tomsula)? How will he deal with the same lack of playmaking receivers that doomed his offense in Philadelphia? And, can he even adapt after defenses seemingly figured out his schemes in 2014?
No question looms larger though than what will Kelly do with the quarterback position? Chip has stated that he doesn’t need a running quarterback for his offense to work efficiently, but that may very well be “coach speak,” because he never had a viable run/pass quarterback in Philadelphia (Mike Vick obviously couldn’t master the “pass” part under Chip).
There is no doubt in my mind that a running threat at the quarterback position would add a dimension that his offense sorely lacked in 2014. Both Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick have the requisite mobility, but Kaepernick is the only one of the two that has graded positively for a season. Unfortunately for 49ers fans, that was all the way back in 2013, ages ago by NFL standards. The last two seasons, Kaep has ranked 35th and 23rd in terms of accuracy percentage. He is also consistently among the slowest QBs in average time to pass attempt.
However, the potential is high for a Kaepernick-Kelly pairing. Kaepernick’s struggles of late have conveniently coincided with a downturn in talent, whether it be on the offensive line or at receiver. Kaepernick showed (back in his earlier years) that he can be accurate with the ball downfield, but short and intermediate timing routes can give him trouble. Kelly’s offense, with its heavy focus on crossers, has been one where the quarterback doesn’t necessarily have to throw with anticipation. Kelly also runs a lot of one-read run-pass options that would allow the former Nevada standout to flash his biggest skill—his athleticism—to create mismatches.
Few quarterbacks in the history of the NFL reached their peak in only their second season, but that’s what Kaepernick’s career path will look like if he can’t turns things around under Kelly. So, is the dreaded “p”-word (potential) worth $15.9m next season? My guess is that Kelly addresses it through either the draft and/or free agency, but that Kaepernick gets a shot as well because of all the tools he possesses. It might not be pretty in 2016, but 49ers fans have to feel better about their outlook now than they did during Week 1.