San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is certainly the Bay Area's most exciting young passer these days. The second-year man from Nevada took over for Alex Smith last November, and took a team that seemed a great quarterback away from the Super Bowl to that precise destination. The 49ers' 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII took none of the bloom off the rose, and the team seems in very good shape for the next few years with a smart signal-caller who can run linebackers to total fatigue and make every throw destined to drive cornerbacks crazy.
As it turns out, Kaepernick -- who was selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft by the 49ers -- was very much on the radar of northern California's other NFL team. As SI.com's Peter King wrote in his most recent MMQB column, the Oakland Raiders, then led by head coach Hue Jackson, had Kaepernick set as their top quarterback prospect. Yes, ahead of the five quarterbacks who preceded Kaepernick in that draft -- Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, and Andy Dalton.
"Coach Jackson told me before the draft they were going to do everything they could to try to get me,'' said Kaepernick from a Turlock, Calif. retirement ceremony for Brandon Harris, Kaepernick's high-school coach. "I thought there was a good chance they'd pick me. I never heard anything from the 49ers before the draft after I worked out for them [at Nevada]. I just figured they weren't interested."
The 49ers became interested in Kaepernick after the Nevada star developed a friendship with Andrew Luck, who 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh coached at Stanford, at the Manning Passing Academy. Kaepernick later said that he thought he "pissed [Harbaugh] off" during his workout because it ended abruptly, but it's more likely that Harbaugh had seen all he needed to see. So, with the 45th pick in the 2011 draft and full knowledge that the Raiders wanted Kaepernick, Harbaugh and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke started putting a trade up in motion.
From King's story:
Baalke called the Patriots, who owned the first pick of the second round, and offered two third-round picks (one in '11, one in '12) to move up 12 spots. New England wanted one of the thirds to be a second. No dice, Baalke said. Oakland called New England too, and failed to get the pick. "When we talked internally,'' Jackson said, "we knew we needed to fortify the offensive line, and we really liked Stefan Wisniewski. I think [Al Davis] felt we'd get a lineman who we figured could play for us for 10 years, then we had two third-round picks, and we'd try to move up late in the second round or higher in the third and try to get Colin."
But the 49ers knew the Raiders loved Kaepernick; it'd been in the media before the draft. So they kept working the top of the second round, and finally got the Broncos, at 36, to bite. Good price, too: It didn't cost the Niners two third-round picks to move up; it cost fourth- and fifth-rounders. "When they made the trade,'' Jackson said, "I knew exactly what they were going to do. They were going to take Colin."
Rick Kaepernick, Colin's father, told King that Al Davis threw a glass across the room in anger when the 49ers made the pick.
"I don't know that he threw anything,'' Hue Jackson told King. "But he was upset. So was I. Scouting him, I fell in love with the kid. Leader, won a ton of games at Nevada, really impressive when you talked to him, strong, all the tools to win in the NFL. No doubt in my mind he was going to be good.''
But would he have been good -- or, at least, as good -- with the Raiders? Oakland fired Hue Jackson in January of 2012 after just one season (a move that has caused our buddy Mike Silver all sorts of agita), and Dennis Allen, Jackson's replacement, put former Greg Knapp in charge of a 2012 Raiders offense that finished 23rd in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted offensive metrics, and 20th in passing. Knapp lasted one season, and has been replaced by Greg Olson. The Raiders finished 17th in passing the year before, and the team is now in severe rebuilding mode under general manager Reggie McKenzie after years of bad drafts and questionable free-agent signings. There may have been an impetus to start Kaepernick before he was ready for the NFL, given the pressure on Jackson and the dormant state of Oakland's offense.
Meanwhile, the 49ers went 13-3 and almost made the Super Bowl in the 2011 season with Alex Smith at quarterback. They were on another hot start in 2012 when Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams on November 11, which gave Kaepernick the opportunity to add his talents to a team that was totally stocked with premier players at every level.
Moreover, the 49ers did for Kaepernick when the Washington Redskins did for Robert Griffin III and the Seattle Seahawks did for Russell Wilson in 2012 -- they adapted their offensive concepts and principles to meet Kaepernick's strengths. From his first start against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 19 through the Super Bowl, Kaepernick and the 49ers' offensive coaching staff proved to be a very tough act to match.
"Colin's been practicing the game plans every week, and we've always had a little 'Colin plan,' whether or not we chose to bring it out," Roman told me in New Orleans during Super Bowl week. "We chose to bring it out against the Jets this season for the first time, and it worked. Colin's an adaptable guy -- he can run a lot of different styles of offense, and we're always going to push the envelope with what we put in and ask our players to do. Keep them stimulated, keep things fresh, and teaching as we go.
"They've got to figure out where everyone is, and where they're going. Advantage: Us. We'll take it."
Meanwhile, the Raiders have been busy overreacting to stories about their dysfunctional organization by firing their PR Director. They've had three different people running their offense since Kaepernick was drafted, which leads us to believe that all things worked out in the best possible way for him. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Raiders wouldn't have ruined Kaepernick, and pretty quickly, at that.
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