Chip Kelly hiring could breathe new life into Kaepernick’s career

Can Colin Kaepernick bounce back in 2016 with Chip Kelly at the helm of the 49ers? Mike Renner discusses.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Zummies


  • Russ Smith

    Thanks to SF management this is a spiraling down team, chippy isn’t going to fix it.. another 6-10 kinda season.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I can’t mind much sympathy for Frisco fans since they’ve been spoiled with champions in both baseball and basketball recently.

    • Matt

      6-10? HA!…more like 4-12

  • Richard Snyder

    The Niners are going to be the Cleveland Browns of the West Coast

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Browns gave the Niners a pretty good spanking this past season so I guess that would be considered a step in the right direction.

  • Alfredo Cota

    Kaepernick is not accurate enough to efficiently play in Chip’s offense. Either he improves or Kelly changes the offense a bit. People think that Kelly’s system requires running QBs, but this attribute is not crucial as ball placement is.

    • zinn21 zinn21

      Precisely my argument and reasoning to draft Jared Goff..

    • AKjester

      What do you mean “ball placement?” Is that accuracy? I know in the 90’s the thing that Kurt Warner had in St. Louis was an amazing ability to lead his receivers so they always seemed to catch the ball in stride. I haven’t seen another QB have that kind of touch since Warner. Below Zinn21 suggests Goff. Does he have that type of accuracy?

  • zinn21 zinn21

    So Chip is somehow going to take Colin Kaepernick, as fundamentally unsound a QB as there is in the entire National Football league. A guy who won’t even be able to process the speed of Kelly’s incoming play system let alone what an opposing defense is doing and turn him into a playoff quality signal caller? My grandmother always had a response for those selling a pipe dream. “You can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear”…

    • McGeorge

      I agree it looks doubtful, but if Chip Kelly can turn Kaepernick into an average QB (second Tier) then that’s a huge improvement for the 49ers, and it will greatly enhance Kellys reputation.

    • Tim Edell

      Anything is possible in Chips offense.. Remember Nick Foles had 27 TDs passing with only 2 INTs and QB rating of 119 in this offense.

    • James Jones

      And Harbaugh was able to “save” Alex’s career when he was here. Anything is possible with a new start and a new coach. Not saying that Kaep is even going to be on the roster come April 1st, but if he is Kelly would be the one man who can have a chance of turning things around for Colin.

  • enai D

    I’d be so pissed if I was a 49’ers fan- you had a good coach, but fired him because he was sort of a dick. So you hire the nice guy, who sucked as a coach. Now you’re back with a guy who’s sort of a dick, but who isn’t half the coach that the FIRST guy that was sort of a dick was.

  • Adusoron

    Kaepernick’s contract is something like 11.9M this year, not 15.9. There is a ton of funny money in the contract including annual “outs” that allow SF to part ways if desired. Gabbert’s contract is something like $2M this year. So the money hit between them isn’t that bad. Kelly is likely to keep both, and play the best fit for his offense.