Nine games, that's all he needed. In nine starts this season, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the NFL by storm, showing off a skill set that few quarterbacks possess, and displaying intelligence and maturity beyond his years. In those nine games Kaepernick has begun to reshape what is possible out of the quarterback position. If Kaepernick can lead the 49ers to a win Sunday night in New Orleans, in just his 10th career start, he could very well change the mold of the quarterback position in the NFL.
In recent times NFL teams have succeeded almost exclusively with pure pocket passers. The rules regarding hits on the quarterback while in the pocket and the amount of contact defensive backs can have on wide receivers entices teams to throw the ball, which has made the NFL a pass-heavy league. Thus, the ideal quarterback has become someone that is tall, with a strong arm, and capable of reading the defense, standing in the pocket, and throwing the ball all over the field.
Any athleticism at all from the quarterback position has become optional, and up until the last year or two, it has been rare to see a team with an athletic starting quarterback playing in the postseason. The best quarterbacks of the current generation, such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, as well as the most talented of the younger quarterbacks, such as Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, have all fit this mold, making it no coincidence that all of their teams have had sustained success throughout each of their careers.
However, while traditional pocket passers remain the most common type of quarterback in the NFL, a new group of young, dual-threat quarterbacks are challenging the well-established domination of pocket quarterbacks. In 2011, the Carolina Panthers took dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton with the first pick in the draft. Later in the year, the Broncos advanced to the second round of the playoffs behind the ultimate mold buster, Tim Tebow. In 2012, the arrival of rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson continued to give athletic quarterbacks a presence in the NFL, as they both led their teams to the playoffs, and in a lot of ways drew more praise and attention than fellow rookie and traditional pocket passer Andrew Luck.
But no one has captured our attention as quickly and as completely as Kaepernick has in just nine games. Kaepernick combines the size and arm strength of a pocket quarterback with the running ability and athleticism of a dual-threat quarterback. In just nine games, he has moved to the forefront of this new breed of quarterbacks that are attempting to revolutionize the position. Since his first start of the season on a Monday night against the Bears, Kaepernick has impressed and almost mesmerized the league with his play, his abilities, his intelligence, and his demeanor; not to mention the way he has performed in the playoffs and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Up until now, mobile quarterbacks weren’t taken all that seriously, being treated as more of a token or an oddity than a legitimate way to attain and ultimately sustain success. However, the number of them is growing, and with a plentiful amount of film available on them, they have still proven to be difficult to stop, short of injuring them. There were several of them present in the playoffs this year, meaning that what seemed like a trend, could be turning into something more permanent. If Kaepernick, who is leading the movement, becomes a Super Bowl winner in just his 10th career start, it could signal a new era for quarterbacks and for the NFL.