Why Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson Aren't Top Options in Week 2
Yet, neither Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson are viable QB1 options this week.
Some may ask why I am drawing this conclusion. Well, it’s pretty simple…They are going up against one another in the Pacific Northwest on Sunday Night Football in what promises to be one of the best early-season battles in the National Football League.
It won’t be one of those 42-35 games, either.
San Francisco and Seattle possess two of the best defenses in the entire league. Their complete domination as it relates to shutting down opposing fantasy players has been nothing short of extraordinary over the past couple seasons.
Postseason included, Kaepernick is averaging 374 total yards and 2.5 touchdowns over his last four outings. These numbers are good enough to make him the unquestioned No. 1 overall fantasy quarterbacks if duplicated this week.
That’s just not going to happen.
Seattle yielded the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks last season and forced Cam Newton into his worst statistical performance in 33 career NFL starts this past week. Its defense has also allowed just five touchdown passes compared to 11 interceptions at home since the start of last season.
It doesn’t take a stat savant to come to the conclusion that those numbers are about as dominating as a defense can put up over an extended period of time. Seattle utilized the electric atmosphere of its home-field advantage and plays off the ear-piercing noise to create what has to be one of the most intimidating environments in the recent history of the league.
It also shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Kaepernick’s lone below-average fantasy performance in his last seven starts came in a lopsided 42-13 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle last December. Since, Kaepernick has put up 12 touchdowns compared to two interceptions and has the 49ers averaging 33 points and 464 yards per game in five outings.
One added equation that San Francisco didn’t have last season against Seattle is new wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who went off for 13 receptions and over 200 yards against Green Bay last week. This mitigates the loss of Michael Crabtree to an Achilles injury until at least November and might actually represent an upgrade in this specific matchup.
Boldin is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, wide receivers in the NFL. He will not cower or be intimidated by the presence of Richard Sherman at cornerback. Hell, that is going to be one great matchup come Sunday night. Though, it must be noted that Sherman seems to do better against big, physical receivers than he does against the smaller and shiftier ones. Either way, expect Kaepernick to look in Boldin’s direction early and often.
For his part, our +26.4 coverage grade for Sherman ranked him No. 1 overall among cornerbacks in the NFL last season. The second closest in that category was Casey Hayward of the Green Bay Packers who put up a +19.3 grade in less playing time. If Boldin is held in check, which is a strong likelihood, Kaepernick will have to look in Vernon Davis’ direction a lot on Sunday night. The talented tight end put up six catches for nearly 100 yards and two scores on nine targets against Green Bay in Week 1. Interestingly enough, opposing tight ends did pretty well against Seattle in terms of fantasy production last season. It finished in the middle of the pack in that category, yielding 57 receiving yards and 0.3 scores per game. If Kaepernick can find success with Davis, he could surprise skeptics in this one.
It’s also important to note that San Francisco will want to play ball-control offense and quiet the crowd early. This means that Jim Harbaugh and Co. will go with more of a run-first offense early with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. Limiting the number of pass attempts by Kaepernick early will only play into the idea that he’s not going to put up the necessary statistics to be a true QB1 option this week. This run-first mentality makes sense considering that San Francisco boasts a .674 winning percentage in Gore’s career when he attempts 20-plus rushes.
We also need to address Kaepernick’s running ability. While this aspect of his game has been well noted over the past few months, the young quarterback has only seen nine designed runs over the past three games. San Francisco seems to be moving away from the read option in order to feature Kaepernick’s passing ability and limit the amount of hits he takes.
With that said, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman will not run the same offense for two consecutive weeks. We are likely to see more called runs by Kaepernick, which could help him increase his fantasy value even without a lot of passing yards. At which point, Seattle may decide to play man coverage on the outside and utilize Bobby Wagner as a spy. That seemed to work to an extent last December. Wagner has the speed and on-field awareness to at least be able to contain Kaepernick on the ground.
For his part, Russell Wilson doesn’t seem to have the indicators of success in this one either. The stellar young quarterback has been downright scary over the course of his last dozen starts, but it’s likely he’ll be taken out of his comfort zone rather early.
We graded Seattle’s pass protection at No. 26 overall last week against the Panthers. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s pass rush graded out in the top 10 of the NFL against the Packers last week. Aldon Smith ranked second among 3-4 outside linebackers in terms of the pass rush last week, right behind Dwight Freeney. Justin Smith also ranked among the top 10 among 3-4 defensive ends in that very same category. Left tackle Russell Okung will be tasked with anchoring protection in front of Russell Wilson on that side of the line. The former first-round pick graded out as the 49th-best pass-protecting offensive tackle, including 23rd among left tackles last week. Simply put, that’s just not going to get it done against one of the best defensive fronts in the entire NFL.
If Wilson is faced with pressure from the left side of the line, Seattle can’t have too much confidence that right tackle Breno Giacomini will be able to hold up against the likes of defensive end Ray McDonald and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. As I indicated in San Francisco’s matchup with Aaron Rodgers last week, if the opposing quarterback is facing pressure from both sides of the line, he’s simply not going to be that effective.
Another important thing to note here is that while San Francisco’s pass defense has given up a ton of yards over the past few games, last season included, a lot of that had to do with the game plan that opposing offenses utilized. Facing one of the most difficult defenses to run on, opposing quarterbacks are averaging 38 pass attempts in the last five games against San Francisco. Contrasting for a second, Wilson has yet to throw that many passes in any of his 19 career starts.
This is an important thing to look at because there is no reason to believe that Wilson will come close to attempting 38 passes in this one unless the Seahawks fall behind early and have to play catch up.
Despite what has been a focus on throwing the ball against San Francisco’s defense over the past two years, it has really held up well against quarterbacks in terms of fantasy football. Opposing signal callers averaged less than 19 points per outing last season, which ranked the 49ers in the top 10 of the NFL.
Wilson targeted wide receivers with 20 of the 33 passes he attempted against Carolina last week. His success rate in those targets stood at a ridiculous 85 percent, but Seattle’s starters Golden Tate and Sidney Rice only came down with a combined six receptions on nine targets. It was No. 3 wide receiver Doug Baldwin who had the most success. He caught seven of the eight passes thrown in his direction for over 90 yards.
Unfortunately for Seattle, Baldwin will be going up against one of the better press corners in the NFL in the form of Nnamdi Asomugha, who had his ups and downs last week against Green Bay. Going at it with Jordy Nelson a majority of the time, Asomugha held his own to an extent. Despite what advanced statistics may tell us (-1.7 grade), the veteran only allowed nine yards after the catch and did a solid job jamming other receivers at the line. A total of 29 percent of Baldwin’s receiving yards came after the catch last week. In short, don’t expect the same number this week.
When Baldwin does line up against other 49ers’ cornerbacks, the success rate just won’t be there. Despite giving up over 330 passing yards to Rodgers last week, less than 10 percent of those yards came after the catch. This means that Wilson will need to beat San Francisco’s secondary over the top. Considering Seattle’s pass-protection issues and the 49ers ability to get to the quarterback, I highly doubt he’ll have the time to do that.
Listen, both Kaepernick and Wilson are elite fantasy quarterbacks. They were drafted to start each and every game this season and will be in the top 10 among quarterbacks in terms of production nearly every week that they suit up. This article is not questioning their ability to dominate other defenses. Instead, it is more of a credit to both defenses.
As opposed to the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys Sunday Night Football matchup last week, this game won’t be nearly as high scoring. It will, however, be a much better played game. You can take that to the bank. The issue here as it relates to fantasy football, is that there won’t be a whole lot of scoring to go around. This means that both Wilson and Kaepernick should take a backseat to QB2 options who face favorable matchups.