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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Why Colin Kaepernick Is Just As "Cerebral" As Peyton Manning

Illustration for article titled Why Colin Kaepernick Is Just As "Cerebral" As Peyton Manning

Excerpted from Deadspin's Big Book of Black Quarterbacks. This entry is written by Kyle Wagner.


Approximately 98.7 percent of the inmates at California's state prison have tattoos. I don't know that as fact, but I've watched enough "Lockup" to know it's close to accurate. I'm also pretty sure less than 1.3 percent of NFL quarterbacks have tattoos. There's a reason for that.

This is how Sporting News writer David Whitley opened a column on Colin Kaepernick's tattoos in November 2012. In 23 games over a season and a half as starter, Kaepernick is 17-6, has thrown 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and been to the Super Bowl and NFC championship game.

The point actually worth talking about with regard to Kaepernick—along with RGIII, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and even Nick Foles—is that he's running an offense that upends the traditional idea that an offensive system that relies on a running quarterback is fundamentally less complex than the kind of passing offense that, say, Peyton Manning might lead. This might have been true in the past, to some degree, as some offenses would stick a mobile quarterback in a vanilla offense, and just turn him loose if his second, or sometimes first, option wasn't running free. Today, though, offenses predicated on the threat of a running or mobile quarterback are common, and require split-second decisions from quarterbacks on the run. It's a difference of kind, not degree—the difference between doing what Fred Astaire did, and what Ginger Rogers did.

"There are no gimmicks in our offense," pistol innovator Chris Ault says. Ault coached Kaepernick at Nevada, and says that the offense actually was developed as an antidote to the problem, as he saw it, with the shotgun spread offense.

"When the shotgun offenses came out, I enjoyed watching those teams move the football," he says. "The thing I did not like was the idea of a running back getting the ball running east and west. We have always been a north and south running game offense."


In a read-option offense, the quarterback has to make many of the same reads that you'd find on a traditional drop-back play, but at full speed, while avoiding an unblocked lineman or linebacker. "Where is the safety?" is no longer a binary check (Oh, he's in a deep zone, I should have a skinny seam here), but a pressing concern involving the risk of personal bodily harm (OH GOD, HE HAS FILL RESPONSIBILITY AND THE READ DEFENDER SQUEEZED THE LANE. *splat*). And then: Has the "arc" lead blocker given you enough room to make a gain after you've beaten the linebacker—is this the one who will open his hips early on a juke, or is that his backup?—or should you throw downfield, at which point, where's the safety?

Backwards, and in heels.

(It can work the other way. Manning's offense in particular is a good example of how the opposite can be true for pass-heavy offenses as well. Manning obviously puts in an immense amount of preparation to make his pre-snap reads and adjustments as efficient as they are, which in turn forces defenses to "declare" what they are doing. But this actually means that Manning ends up seeing less complicated defenses than other quarterbacks in the league. And because of the nature of checking into plays on the fly every snap, Manning's playbook has always been stocked with far fewer actual plays than you might think. This is to take nothing away from him—the man is a savant, and there is a very big brain behind that very big forehead—but simply to illustrate that "cerebral" play manifests in a lot of unexpected ways.)


The point isn't to elevate a read-option, or other mobile-friendly offenses, ahead of traditional drop-back systems. Read-option efficiency dropped considerably this year, though it should be noted that Super Bowl champion Seattle and NFC runner-up San Francisco actually used it more frequently. Instead, consider this a belated invitation to call your favorite read-option quarterback a cerebral, thinking man's player—so long as he isn't getting flattened every other down by that safety charging the gap.

Colin Kaepernick | 2011-2013 | San Francisco 49ers

Drafted, 2nd round (36 overall) | 32 games (23 starts) | 5,046 yards passing | 31 passing TDs | 11 INTs | 59.8 comp. % | 93.8 QB rating | 937 yards rushing | 9 rushing TDs | 15 fumbles

"His intelligence and competitiveness could make him a star."—Yahoo