COMMENTARY | Maybe it comes with being one of the youngest quarterbacks to lead his team to the Super Bowl. Maybe it's Colin Kaepernick's perceived mentality off the field. Heck, it could even be the way the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback holds himself on the field. Put it any which way, but it seems that the third-year quarterback is held to a much different standard than other young signal callers around the National Football League.
From the Sporting News' well-documented attack on his character due to tattoos to Rick Reilly's questionable ESPN article on Kaepernick's relationship with his birth mother, it seems that he's a divisive figure around the media world.
This has taken an even more elaborate turn with Kaepernick's struggles over the course of his last four games. During that span, the young quarterback has tallied 557 passing yards and three touchdowns compared to four interceptions. Not exactly what we had in mind after his stunning Week 1 performance against the Green Bay Packers.
Were these struggles to be expected? Are other young quarterbacks being placed under the same microscope? From my perspective, the answer is a clear no.
Let's look at Kaepernick's rival in the NFC West, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. He has his team one game ahead of the defending conference champions after a Week 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Looking specifically at statistics, Wilson's performance through five games hasn't been much better than what we have seen from Kaepernick. In general, San Francisco has also withstood injuries and lackluster play to find itself down only one game through five weeks.
Wilson ranks 23rd in the NFL in yards, 10th in passing touchdowns, 33rd in pass attempts per game and 12th with a 91.2 quarterback rating. He's also turned the ball over seven times compared to eight total touchdowns.
The second-year quarterback has struggled late in one-score games this season. He compiled a 62.5 quarterback rating against the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter this season. While all the teams that Seattle has played thus far this season currently rank in the top 10 of the NFL in pass defense, this is a bit alarming.
Don't get me wrong here. Wilson is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL and brings a certain level of professionalism with him that we rarely see from young players. His maturity and leadership is astonishing at such a young age. With that said, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of criticism thrown his way. Seattle might be 4-1 and in first place in the NFC West, but it has played only one complete game all season long. That came against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3. Even in its lopsided win against San Francisco, Wilson completed just eight passes for 142 yards and an interception. He clearly wasn't one of the primary reasons the Seahawks came out on top in that one.
Where Kaepernick received criticism after completing just six passes in a 34-3 win over the Houston Texans last week, we didn't hear a peep about Wilson throwing for just 123 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception against the very same Texans team the week before. Both came in winning efforts and were products of solid defense and Matt Schaub's tendency to throw as many touchdowns to opposing defenses as he does to his own offense.
For his part, Kaepernick has struggled early this season but his numbers are very comparable to what we have seen from Wilson. He's 25th in the NFL in passing yards, 17th in passing touchdowns, 30th in attempts per game and 20th with an 81.9 rating. These numbers are obviously a far cry from what we saw during the 2012 season and into the postseason, but a vast majority of his struggles came in that two-game stretch against Seattle and Indianapolis.
It could very well be that expectations were too high for Kaepernick heading into the season. Heck, I even played into those expectations to an extent. San Francisco's reliance on him in the passing game against Seattle and Indianapolis came back to haunt it big time. Since Jim Harbaugh and Co. have gotten back to the basics of running the ball, more of a Seahawks' philosophy with Wilson, the 49ers have taken off. They defeated the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans by a combined 69-14 score, proving that early-season struggles can be overcome if you have the right strategy and talent in place to succeed. During that very same two-week span, Seattle narrowly escaped a win against a Houston team San Francisco beat by 31 and lost to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that destroyed the 49ers.
It is understandable that Kaepernick has been placed under a microscope early on this season. He came out of absolutely nowhere to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl last year. With help from the media, he then had what we could call a drama-filled offseason. Like it or not, he's the face of the young quarterbacks in the NFL. Add into the equation that he joined Joe Montana and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl in their history and you have a perfect storm of sensationalist media coverage.
We do, however, have to put this into perspective. Including the postseason, Kaepernick has started 15 career NFL games. In terms of on-field experience, the likes of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Wilson himself have more starts under their belts. Take No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree and go-to possession guy Mario Manningham out of the equation and there are other indicators that have led to the struggles we have seen recently.
As it is, San Francisco is still 3-2 and one game behind Seattle in the NFC West. It's also important to remember that the 49ers have taken on four playoff teams from a season ago in their first five outings this year. With games coming up against the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, Kaepernick and Co. should be in a good position heading into a Week 11 showdown against the currently undefeated New Orleans Saints. Check back in then and I am sure you naysayers will be singing a different tune.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Niners Nation and was a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. His work has been published on CNN, Pro Football Focus and BR, among other sites.
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