Why Colin Kaepernick Can Win You Your Fantasy Football Championship in 2015
By just about every account, the San Francisco 49ers had a down season in 2014, failing to live up to the hype of being one of the NFL's best teams.
Some of the onus fell on franchise quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, whose passing statistics showed little or no improvement from his 2013 campaign.
But at 6.1 yards per carry, which ranked second in the NFL and was an increase from his 5.7 yards per carry average in 2013, his rushing ability was still as dangerous as ever.
But we knew that already. So just how bad was his rushing? And given that the new coaching staff will likely implement a simpler, run-heavy approach for 2015, what type of ceiling does Kaepernick possess in fantasy football formats?
Admitting to the Problem
Look, Kaepernick did secure a yards per carry of 6.1 on 104 attempts, per ESPN's database. That mark fell short of only Russell Wilson's yards per carry of 7.2 and was the only other yards per carry tally greater than 5.4 yards.
But Kaepernick scored one lone touchdown, and that's a big reason why the numbers weren't there all year long -- and that touchdown is also why his yards per carry were that impressive.
Without that 90-yard scamper (the flag was on the defense), his yards per carry would have slipped to 5.3 -- and still ranked third in the league behind Justin Forsett -- but no matter how many yards per clip he was getting, his on-field impact wasn't as great as it was in 2012 or 2013.
That's what our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric says, at least. NEP is our signature metric, and it quantifies a player's on-field performance and compares it to league expectation levels. So, Kaepernick could rush for six yards a clip, but if those plays were on 3rd-and-20, they don't matter as much they would on 3rd-and-2.
How, then, did his Rushing NEP look in 2014? Eh.
Kaepernick attempted 90 rushes, according to our database, and those 90 totes led to a Rushing NEP of 10.92, which means the 49ers theoretically gained roughly 11 points because of Kaepernick's carries.
That ranked him 10th at quarterback and was worse than Drew Brees, who boasted a Rushing NEP of 11.06. On a per-carry basis, Kaepernick secured just 0.12 Rushing NEP. That also ranked 10th, but that's among the 13-quarterback subset who attempted at least 32 carries last year (2.0 per game).
Only 52.22% of his carries led to positive NEP gains, which ranked 11th in the group.
In 2013, Kaepernick tallied a Rushing NEP of 26.61 on 81 rushes (0.33 per carry), and in 2012, he racked up 16.54 on 61 carries (0.27 per rush). Now, it's true that his Success Rate (the percentage of his carries that led to positive NEP gains) never was better than 54%, suggesting he's a boom-or-bust type of rusher, but his efficiency was significantly worse in 2014 than in his previous seasons.
And prior to his 151-yard breakout against the San Diego Chargers, Kaepernick owned a Rushing NEP of -3.50 on 79 carries, suggesting the 49ers lost 0.04 points every time Kap ran the ball. At the time, among the 20 quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts, Kaepernick ranked 19th in both Rushing NEP and Rushing NEP per attempt (better than only Derek Carr).
A Gold Rush?
So, we know that Kaepernick didn't score touchdowns, and based on his NEP, he didn't really add points to the Niners -- thanks in part to his five fumbles -- but there's reason to think that his rushing is better in 2015.
Of course, there's the shift in offensive mentality, but Kaepernick saw 15 red zone carries last season, fourth most among quarterbacks. Six quarterbacks last year attempted double-digit carries in the red zone, and only Kaepernick and Tom Brady didn't score a touchdown from inside the 20.
In 2013, Kaepernick converted three of his nine red zone carries for touchdowns, and in 2012, he scored four times on 15 red zone rushes.
There's already a vacancy in red zone production for the 49ers, and Kaepernick saw plenty of chances near the end zone despite the attempt to limit his rushing for the year.
Fantasy Football Upside
It's only June, but Kaepernick's average draft position is in the middle of the 12th round on FantasyFootballCalculator.com. He's getting drafted as the 17th quarterback off the board. Seven defenses are going before he is. That's not free, but it may as well be.
His passing will need to return -- his 0.04 Passing NEP per drop back was deadlocked with Brian Hoyer, Kyle Orton, and Cam Newton -- to something closer to his 2012 and 2013 efficiency. In 2013, his Passing NEP per drop back of 0.14 ranked eighth among the 39 quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 drop backs. In 2012, his mark of 0.17 tied for seventh.
Kaepernick has had plenty of success in his short career, and given his draft-day cost, why not take a chance on his return to being an efficient passer with a rushing floor that can give him weekly safety and a ceiling that could help win you weeks -- and possibly a fantasy football championship?