Three years ago, fantasy football owners would have leaped at the opportunity to land San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This year? Most, rightly, will be hesitant to pick up the 49ers newest starter under center.
49ers head coach Chip Kelly announced Tuesday that Kaepernick will take over starting duties from Blaine Gabbert ahead of Sunday’s Week 6 road matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
Gabbert, before considered a first-round draft bust by the Jacksonville Jaguars, has gone 1-4 in five starts, accumulating 890 passing yards and five touchdown passes and six interceptions for an NFL-worst 69.6 passer rating. According to ESPN, Gabbert is also averaging a league-worst 5.9 yards per pass attempt and the 49ers have been outscored by 57 points in their last four games.
Thus, Kelly’s decision to start Kaepernick seems like a decent move for San Francisco, even if Kaepernick hasn’t started a game since the middle of last season.
Fantasy owners might be keen to jump on a quarterback who has shown such promise with both his arm and legs before, but jumping on trends has its limitations and can lead to disasters in fantasy football.
First, let’s remember why Kaepernick lost his starting job to a low-tier quarterback like Gabbert in the first place.Before he was injured last season, Kaepernick posted a 2-6 record and completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,615 yards and six touchdowns to five interceptions. Those numbers appear eerily similar to Gabbert’s.
Secondly, Kaepernick barely played this preseason after undergoing procedures on his right thumb and left knee in January, on top of the shoulder surgery performed during last season.
Thirdly, Kaepernick has shown little ability to play under any head coach other than Jim Harbaugh, who drafted him out of Nevada and molded him into a Super Bowl starter.
Also, Kaepernick’s shown a steady decline ever since he rose to prominence under Harbaugh in 2012. He rocketed to fame during the 2012 season by going 5-2 in seven starts and firing off 10 touchdowns to three interceptions with 1,814 passing yards before leading the 49ers to an eventual Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.
In 2013, Kaepernick played just as strong with a 12-4 record, 3,197 passing yards and 21 touchdowns to eight interceptions. And during those first two seasons he also accumulated 939 rushing yards and nine more touchdowns, making Kaepernick one of the strongest dual-threat quarterbacks in the league and in fantasy. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Kaepernick accounted for 515 fantasy points during those two top seasons.
However, after Harbaugh was fired after the 2013 season, Kaepernick’s play tumbled. In 2014, he threw 10 interceptions and his passer rating plummeted to 86.4 after never dipping below 91 in his first two seasons. Kaepernick also took a career-worst 52 sacks, which undoubtedly attributed to wear and tear on his body and likely affected his play in 2015.
Kaepernick is not the same player as he was two years ago, and he’s been tabbed to help the 49ers No. 31-ranked passing offense make some room for talented running back Carlos Hyde with a hodgepodge group of receivers that includes Jeremy Kerley, Garrett Celek, Quinton Patton, and Torrey Smith. Those four lead San Francisco in receiving yardage and have scored a combined three touchdowns.
Also consider Kaepernick's first opponent. The Bills own the 10th-best passing defense in the NFL (223 yards per game), are holding quarterbacks to a 77.2 passer rating, and are tied for third in the league with six interceptions. Buffalo's also allowed just two passing touchdowns through five games and is one of the hottest teams in the league with three consecutive victories.
But, some fantasy owners are willing to take a risk. As of publishing, more than 3,000 Yahoo users had added Kaepernick to their rosters.