Over at Grantland yesterday, Bill Barnwell concluded his annual NFL Trade Value column. I recommend reading it, as Barnwell’s a thoughtful analyst who clearly put a lot of time into his rankings. I’m not going to go through his whole list of evaluations slot-by-slot, but I wanted to talk about his ranking of Colin Kaepernick, who he pegged as the eighth-most valuable player in the NFL.
Now, there’s an obvious caveat to what I’m about to discuss, which is that I am a Niners fan. Even beyond that, I have a particular affection for Kaepernick: This is in part because, as someone who has tattoos, I love the “Kaepernicking,” but it’s much more because, when the Niners had their overblown-by-the-media quarterback controversy last year following Alex Smith’s injury and Kaepernick’s emergence, I was staunch in my belief that going with Kaepernick permanently was the right call. I think it’s safe to say that the Niners’ two playoff victories and near-comeback in the Super Bowl vindicated my opinion.
With that caveat issued, I think Barnwell had Kaepernick too low on the list, and I want to quickly go through and explain why. Of the seven players on the list above Kaepernick, six are also quarterbacks. The seventh is Houston defensive tackle J.J. Watt. The choice of Watt–who Barnwell calls “the most destructive lineman in a generation”–at number four is a matter of taste that I won’t quibble with. It’s Kaepernick’s ranking relative to the other QBs that I’m interested in. He ranked those QBs in the following order:
1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Russell Wilson
3. Andrew Luck
5. Robert Griffin III
6. Matt Ryan
7. Tom Brady
Now, if you want to argue for Rodgers, who’s at his career peak and has been pretty universally regarded as the best QB in the NFL the last couple of years, I won’t argue (Hell, I’m still bitter the Niners passed on him in the 2005 draft). Nor will I argue against Luck, who was the most anticipated QB prospect since Peyton Manning and who led the Colts to a 9-win single season turnaround (although I will point out that Luck was so highly regarded in part because of the coaching he received at Stanford from Jim Harbaugh, who is of course now Kaepernick’s coach with the Niners).
But I don’t buy any of those other names being ahead of Kaepernick. All due respect to Tom Brady, who has been one of the three best QBs in the league for more than ten years, but he is 36 years old. You might be able to convince me I’d want Brady for one game, or even one season, over Kaepernick, but for the remainder of their careers? The ultimate guiding principle behind the Trade Value Column is that the team with the player in the seventh slot wouldn’t trade him for anyone lower on the list. This doesn’t hold up here, because the Niners absolutely would not trade Kaepernick for a QB who is eleven years older (and conversely, I guarantee Bill Belichick would make that trade).
Next up: Matt Ryan. I have to be honest, I don’t get the Matt Ryan love. He’s a good player, and the Falcons have had good records with him as their QB. His numbers were excellent last year, but across the length of his career, they’re really not that great–at least, not that much better than Kaepernick’s, and that’s without considering that Kaepernick adds massive value as a runner that Ryan does not. Also, Ryan is a year from free agency, whereas Kaepernick still has two years left on his rookie deal.
Then there’s RG3. I love this guy as much as anyone else, and if you could depend on him being healthy, I’ll concede he’d deserve to be above Kaepernick. But he was injured several times in his rookie year, including a gruesome knee injury he suffered in a playoff game just seven months ago. Both Kaep and RG3 run the read option and run the ball a lot (though it’s a bit overstated in Kaep’s case because of the epic performance against Green Bay), but if you had to bet on one of the two to actually stay on the field for a full 16 games, which one would you take?
Finally, there’s Russell Wilson, and can we all please just calm the fuck down about Russell Wilson? Yes, he had a great rookie year, particularly when the Seahawks went on their second half run, but as Barnwell himself showed in his “Gang of Four” column last week, if you normalize the stats for a full season, Wilson and Kaepernick’s numbers are almost identical. If you want to give Wilson a bump because he’s only one year into his contract, while Kaepernick is two years in, that’s fine. But that’s a tie-breaker kind of difference, not a six-slot difference. Personally, all other things equal, I’d go with the guy that’s bigger and stronger and more likely to be able to take the punishment.
One more point: In the Trade Value piece, Barnwell downgrades Kaepernick a bit because while he’s started just 10 NFL games, at 25 years old he’s a bit older than you’d think (aside: Aaron Rodgers was 25 when he became the Packers starting QB). He also downgrades Kaepernick because of the injury of his best receiver, Michael Crabtree, which makes a little bit of sense for this year–but how is that relevant for the rest of his career? He’s still a physical specimen whose teammates rave about his intelligence and work ethic, a guy who set the the all-time single-game NFL record for rushing yards by a QB in his first playoff start, who led two huge playoff comebacks, one on the road and one (that barely came up short) in the Super Bowl, and who has the NFL’s top quarterback guru as his coach.
The way I see it, Kaepernick should be no lower than fifth on that list, behind Rodgers, Luck, maybe Watt (if you think any lineman should be that high), and maybe Wilson (if you give Wilson the contract tie-breaker). And I really think he’d make the most sense at number three.
I realize I have spent entirely too many words on this hypothetical, totally made up idea by another internet writer. Football season needs to start yesterday.