In an attempt to gauge the currently unsigned Kaepernick’s ability to lead an offense, here’s our non-scientific experiment: We placed Kaepernick on every single team in “Madden NFL 17,” replacing that club’s projected starter for the upcoming season. This experiment included a control simulation without Kaepernick involved. Thanks to EA Sports’ online community, the rosters were updated, including created players for the first four rounds’ worth of 2017 draft picks.
Also, each simulation used the 2016 NFL schedule (due to “Madden’s” inability to create a schedule in franchise mode), was played on “All-Madden” mode with 15-minute quarters, and injuries were left on.
Outside of changing each team’s depth chart at QB, there was no user input. Each franchise was simulated at the start of Week 1 and ended at the start of the offseason.
Much like Kaepernick’s career, the 32 simulations produced varied results. Here are seven things learned from the “Madden” simulation.
(Kaepernick is rated a 75 overall in the latest roster update)
1. Kaepernick’s win total ranged anywhere from one to 11 – Kaepernick won his highest total of games (11) with the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. Considering both were playoff teams in the control simulation (with the Eagles winning the Super Bowl), it’s unlikely that Kaepernick’s play drastically impacted either team.
Kaepernick’s lowest win total came with the Rams, who won only one game when led by the former 49ers quarterback. L.A. represented the largest drop in win total (minus-9) for Kaepernick when he was swapped for projected starter Jared Goff.
2. Ironically, Seattle was a great fit – Kaepernick’s best season arguably came when he replaced Russell Wilson with the Seahawks. In the control season, Wilson won the NFL MVP award en route to leading Seattle to the NFC title game. With the Seahawks, Kaepernick tied for his highest TD total (32), had his highest rushing total (463) and amassed more than 4,200 total yards. While Kaepernick failed to reach the postseason under Pete Carroll, he finished fourth in NFL MVP voting. Of course, in real life, Seattle passed on Kaepernick to sign Austin Davis.
3. Playoffs were a rare, and brief, occurrence – In 32 simulations, a Kaepernick-led team made the postseason eight times. The teams were the Lions, Jaguars, Steelers, Bills, Dolphins, Ravens, Broncos and Eagles. Of those teams to make the postseason, five of them (Lions, Jaguars, Steelers, Bills, Dolphins) didn’t qualify in the control season.
Kaepernick’s squads never made it past the divisional round. Of the three teams (Ravens, Broncos, Eagles) to make the playoffs in both the Kaepernick and control season, only Denver advanced a round further after the quarterback swap.
4. Kaepernick was released four times – At season’s end, New England, Indianapolis, Tennessee, and the Rams opted to cut Kaepernick. In all four of the instances in which he was released, Kaepernick performed statistically worse and his team’s record dipped when compared to the control simulation. The most interesting case was in New England, where not only was Kaepernick cut, but Tom Brady also retired at the end of the season (this happened more often than not in simulations), leaving the Patriots with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter.
5. The majority of teams would not have benefited from Kaepernick – Not surprisingly, most franchises saw a dip in win total when switching from their projected quarterback to Kaepernick. Sixteen times when Kaepernick assumed control of a team, it saw a drop in wins, and of those, 11 saw a dip of multiple victories. Six teams were about the same with Kaepernick (Bears, Redskins, Bengals, Jets, Browns, Lions), and of those only New York and Cleveland don’t have definitive long-term solutions or a heavy investment in the quarterback position.
6. In 16 of the simulations, Kaepernick missed at least two games – For the most part, Kaepernick stayed healthy. In 50 percent of the simulations, the former Pro Bowler played an entire season’s worth of games. Kaepernick played in at least 12 games in 75 percent of the simulations. Based on “Madden,” Kaepernick’s health shouldn’t be a huge concern, even if he were to be asked to play a full slate of games.
7. So, where does he fit? – Kaepernick made 10 teams better as compared to the control simulation (49ers, Cardinals, Vikings, Bills, Steelers, Jaguars, Broncos, Cowboys, Dolphins, and Buccaneers), so, according to this unscientific “Madden” experiment, it shows there is a possibility that Kaepernick would provide some value to a roster.
Taking into account real-life current quarterback situations, when you look at the 10 teams that saw improvement and the six that were the same in the simulations, Kaepernick’s options appear limited. San Francisco’s quarterback group is unimpressive, but a Kaepernick return to the Bay Area is remarkably unlikely. As far as other teams go, Cleveland appears set to move forward – at least for this season – with either Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler or second-round pick DeShone Kizer. The Jets are in full tank mode, likely looking ahead to USC’s Sam Darnold in next year’s draft.
The simulations show Seattle would have been a nice fit for Kaepernick, based on system and personnel, but after signing Davis and pressed against the salary cap (this issue presented itself even in the “Madden” simulation) the chances of a union are bleak.
Simulating a video game is far from a perfect science and there are obviously other aspects at play in this complex and controversial scenario, but if this experiment shows anything, the most realistic football software available believes that Kaepernick at least deserves to be in the league.
Kaepernick Madden Simulations Sheet on Scribd