Grant Cohn: Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick? Choose carefully (w/video)

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Alex Smith is better than Colin Kaepernick.

Face it. Jim Harbaugh picked the wrong quarterback. The 49ers never should have traded Smith, never should have benched him in the first place.

Remember how it went down? Harbaugh was so eager to bench Smith, Harbaugh broke an unwritten rule, an NFL tradition – a player does not lose his starting job if he gets hurt. Alex Smith had a 104 passer rating 10 games into the 2012 season when he got knocked out of a game against the Rams.

Harbaugh used Smith’s concussion as an opening to anoint Kaepernick, kind of like Harbaugh was dating a girl who canceled a date because she had a cold, so Harbaugh took out her sister as a last minute replacement and dumped the sick girl.

Harbaugh couldn’t shake Smith fast enough. Smith was a 49er long before Harbaugh – Harbaugh inherited him, as if through an arranged marriage.

Harbaugh’s first season on the Niners – 2011 – he lobbied the front office to draft Kaepernick. Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s guy. Smith wasn’t. Easier for a coach to move on from a player with whom he has no ties than one he personally drafts and invests time developing.

Kaepernick has a power arm. He’s bigger, faster and 31/2 years younger than Smith. Harbaugh couldn’t resist Kaepernick’s raw ability and potential. Most evaluators think Kaepernick has the potential to be consistently special, consistently better than Smith. Harbaugh must have thought he could develop Kaepernick into a big time quarterback, a Pro Bowler, and Kaepernick would lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory.

Hasn’t happened.

Look at the facts. Smith made the Pro Bowl last season. Kaepernick didn’t. Kaepernick has made zero Pro Bowl teams.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season — including playoff games — Smith’s passer rating has been 92.1 as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. Kaepernick’s passer rating has been 89.2. During that time, Smith has committed seven penalties and Kaepernick has committed 12. This season, Kaepernick already has committed four penalties, more than any other player on the 49ers.

In three career playoff games, Smith’s passer rating was 108.6. In six career playoff games, Kaepernick’s passer rating was 87.3.

If Smith had been the 49ers quarterback this season instead of Kaepernick, the Niners probably would be 3-1 right now, not 2-2. Smith probably wouldn’t have turned the ball over four times Week 2 against the Bears like Kaepernick did.

If Smith had been the 49ers’ quarterback last season, the 49ers might have gone to the Super Bowl. Smith probably would not have turned the ball over three straight times in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks in the NFC championship game like Kaepernick did.

If Smith had not gotten benched two seasons ago, the 49ers might have won the Super Bowl. Smith probably would not have thrown three straight incomplete passes in Michael Crabtree’s direction to lose to the Ravens like Kaepernick did. Smith probably would have thrown at least one pass to Vernon Davis.

None of this is to say Kaepernick can’t play. He can.

But he’s a tease. Sometimes his performance makes you drool. Sometimes his performance makes you cringe. He is what you call a sometimes performer.

Better to not have a sometimes performer playing quarterback. A quarterback who’s a sometimes performer can win a game by himself when he’s on, but he also can lose a game by himself when he’s off.

A great team like the 49ers should not have to depend on a volatile, up-and-down quarterback. The 49ers don’t need a quarterback who gambles and goes for heroic plays. The 49ers are good enough to win games with power running and defense. The 49ers need a consistent quarterback who doesn’t make big, game-losing mistakes.

That’s Smith. Smith is a consistent performer. He’s like a golfer who plays it safe and goes for par. Kaepernick is like a golfer who goes for birdies every hole. Sure, he shoots some birdies, maybe a few eagles. But he also shoots some double-bogeys.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Smith to beat the 49ers on Sunday. At least nine key Chiefs are injured and will not play. The Chiefs are not in the 49ers’ class.

Sunday’s game should be ugly, something like a 33-10 victory for the Niners.

Unless Kaepernick gives the game away. And you know he can.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

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