Over the weekend, we were reminded how much the Oakland Raiders coveted quarterback Colin Kaepernick prior to the 2011 NFL Draft and how they were planning on taking him in the second round, only to see the San Francisco 49ers trade up and draft Kaepernick before the Raiders had a chance to. Just for fun, why don’t we try to imagine what would have happened if the 49ers hadn’t been able to trade up the way they did, allowing Oakland to draft Kaepernick instead of San Francisco.
Without Kaepernick, San Francisco’s season in 2011 would have unfolded the exact same way, with them losing in the divisional round of the playoffs, but the 2012 season would have been very different. The 49ers still get out to a 6-2 start, but when Alex Smith gets knocked out with a concussion in week 10 they lose to the Rams to fall to 6-3 and don’t have a reliable back up to step in while Smith is out. On the back of their defense, the 49ers beat Chicago the next week without Smith, but lose road games to New Orleans and St. Louis the next two weeks, even with Smith back in the lineup, putting them at 7-5 heading down the stretch.
Smith is fully recovered from his concussion moving towards the end of the season, as San Francisco wins home games against Miami and Arizona, while losing on the road to New England and Seattle. The 49ers finish 9-7, watching the Seahawks take the division while they miss out on a wildcard spot. Despite missing the playoffs, the 49ers are satisfied with Smith’s performance, especially the 6-2 start prior to his concussion, and not wanting to get involved with the shuffle of veteran quarterbacks around the league, they choose to retain Smith. But with a multitude of draft picks, San Francisco uses one of them on a young quarterback to groom, taking Ryan Nassib of Syracuse at the end of the third round. Smith is the starter heading into the 2013 season, as San Francisco expects to compete for a wildcard spot, as the NFC West will be tough to win with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks being the obvious favorite. However, many expect Nassib to overtake Smith by the end of the season, possibly earlier if San Francisco starts to fall out of contention, which could bring about a quarterback controversy for Jim Harbaugh to deal with.
With Kaepernick, the last two seasons are quite different for the Raiders. Even with Kaepernick in the fold, the Raiders start out with Jason Campbell under center in 2011 and they get out to a surprising 4-2 start. With Kaepernick on the roster, there’s no need for the Raiders to trade for Carson Palmer or pick up Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft, so when Campbell goes down with an injury, Oakland hands over the offense to their rookie quarterback. There are growing pains at first, as Oakland loses Kaepernick’s first three games, all within the division, and fall to 4-5. But Kaepernick quickly catchers on and leads the Raiders to three straight wins over Minnesota, Chicago, and Miami to put them in the thick of the playoff race at 7-5. After back-to-back losses against Green Bay and Detroit, Oakland beats Kansas City and San Diego the final two weeks of the season to win the AFC West at 9-7, keeping Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos out of the playoffs. Oakland loses to Pittsburgh in the wildcard round of the playoffs, but they clearly have their quarterback of the future in place moving forward.
In 2012, Oakland is overshadowed in the AFC West by the arrival of Peyton Manning, despite the promise that Kaepernick showed at the end of 2011. Midway through the 2012 season, the Raiders are 6-2 and riding a four-game winning streak. Despite the winning, he starts to grow frustrated with Oakland’s defense, who is unable to can’t stop anybody, which causes the team to lose three in a row. A home game against Cleveland snaps the Raiders out of their slump, as they win four of their final five games, including an upset of the Broncos. A 10-6 record isn’t enough to put Oakland in the playoffs, as they lose out on the final wildcard spot because of a head-to-head loss to the Bengals. Even though Oakland missed the playoffs, Kaepernick and head coach Hue Jackson lead one of the most promising teams in the NFL heading into the 2013 season, as some predict that they could challenge an aging Broncos team for the AFC West title.
Obviously, there’s no way to know for certain what would have happened if Kaepernick ended up in Oakland instead of San Francisco, especially because so many other things would have gone differently had that been the case. But it’s not farfetched to think that both the 49ers and Raiders would be in very different places right now had the 2011 draft unfolded just a little differently. But as it stands now, the two bay-area teams are worlds apart, and a big reason why is Kaepernick being drafted by San Francisco and not Oakland.