Grant Cohn: Judging 49ers' Colin Kaepernick by Bill Walsh's QB standards

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


As Jed York and Trent Baalke search for someone who can make Colin Kaepernick a competent pocket passer, keep in mind that Jim Harbaugh, the Quarterback Whisperer, couldn’t do it; George Whitfield, the Quarterback Guru, couldn’t do it; and Bill Walsh, The Genius, almost certainly wouldn’t care to try.

Of course, I can’t prove that last part — Walsh passed away in 2007 — but 10 years before he passed, he wrote an essay for Pro Sports Xchange listing 10 traits a quarterback must have to become great. Kaepernick lacks nine of them.

Those nine are:

1. Instincts. Walsh wrote, “This is the area that can be the difference between a very solid quarterback and a great quarterback.” And then he added, “This isn’t an area you can do much with as a coach.”

Kaepernick has instincts, but they’re the wrong ones. He has athletic instincts, like which way to cut and when to slide. He doesn’t have quarterback instincts, like pocket-pressure awareness, play-clock awareness, game-clock awareness — any type of awareness. Kaepernick plays quarterback like Kramer from “Seinfeld” goes through life — blissfully unaware.

2. Accuracy. Walsh wrote, “It is a plus to be able to throw a ball on a line for 35 yards, but not if it is off target.”

Kaepernick throws the ball as hard as he can in the general vicinity of a receiver and hopes the receiver makes an impossible catch. Walsh didn’t value kind of accurate or accuracy’s second cousin. He demanded total accuracy.

3. Timing. “This involves understanding a system, the receivers in the system, and having great anticipation.”

None of that describes Kaepernick, who rarely throws a pass before his intended receiver makes his break. Kaepernick doesn’t anticipate openings. He waits for openings. He cheerleads his receivers from the pocket and, as he stares down his receiver, you almost can see a comic-book thought bubble form over his head. It says, “Get open, get open, get open. Please.”

4. Touch. “One of Joe Montana’s most remarkable skills was putting the right touch on a pass so that it was easily catchable by a receiver, who often did not have to break stride.”

One of Kaepernick’s most remarkable skills is firing a pass behind a receiver or over a receiver’s head or through a receiver’s hands so that the ball is easily catchable by a defensive back, who often does not have to break stride to make the interception. Kaepernick has zero touch. He throws so hard, he broke one of Randy Moss’ fingers in 2012.

5. An inventory of throws. Walsh defined the complete inventory as “screen passes, timed short passes, medium range passes and down the field throws.”

A quarterback doesn’t have to excel at all four throws, just like a pitcher doesn’t have to throw four pitches. Three is enough. Joe Montana lacked the arm strength to throw downfield, but he could make all the other throws. Kaepernick has just one throw — a fastball. He lacks the touch to effectively throw screen passes, short passes or deep passes.

6. A quick delivery. Walsh required quarterbacks “to get the ball up and gone with no wasted motion.”

Kaepernick wastes motion. He winds up a like a pitcher, brings the ball down and around before he releases it. His windup, plus his inability to anticipate openings downfield, makes his delivery the slowest in the NFL.

7. Grace during progressions. “This should work like a natural progression,” Walsh wrote, “not a situation where it’s, ‘Oh, my gosh, now I must look over here … no, over there.’”

Walsh didn’t know it, but he wrote that sentence specifically for Kaepernick. Kaepernick goes through progressions with the grace of a decapitated chicken. He bolts from the pocket before pressure arrives. Or, he stands still, stares at one receiver and gets blindsided by a pass rusher. How many times have you seen Kaepernick calmly look from one receiver to another, then throw the ball just before taking a big hit? Never?

8. Quickness. Walsh wanted a quarterback who could avoid a pass rush. So, Walsh valued quickness — the ability to move quickly and with agility in a small space, the pocket. Think Steve Young or Russell Wilson. Kaepernick has no quickness. His legs are so long, his first few strides he seems stuck in quick sand. Once he gets his legs going, his top speed is faster than other quarterbacks’ top speed. Walsh valued top speed in wide receivers, not quarterbacks. Sorry, Colin.

9. Spontaneous genius. “The single trait that separates great quarterbacks from good quarterbacks,” Walsh wrote, “is the ability to make the great, spontaneous decision, especially at a crucial time.”

If running out of bounds while his team is winning late in the fourth quarter counts, or if throwing the same three incomplete passes to Michael Crabtree at the end of the Super Bowl counts, or if testing Richard Sherman over and over again counts, Kaepernick deserves the Nobel Prize.

Walsh did not value Kaepernick’s two best assets — arm strength and speed. Toughness is Kaepernick’s only trait that Walsh valued. Kaepernick never has missed a start due to injury. He’s never had a serious injury, either. Can he function while injured? We don’t know.

If Walsh were alive, I’m guessing he would want to coach a quarterback who is more than merely tough, who has more than one-tenth of the qualities Walsh looks for. If Walsh were alive and Jed York hired him to run the 49ers, I’m guessing Walsh would recommend drafting another quarterback this year, someone worth Walsh’s effort, someone who has the ability to become great — I’m guessing Bryce Petty in the second or third round. Petty has demonstrated everything except spontaneous genius, and already is a better pocket passer than Kaepernick ever will be.

Kaepernick is just a placeholder, someone the Niners can trade when the next quarterback — Petty or whoever — is ready to take over.

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

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine