Colin Kaepernick is one of the best college quarterbacks this century, according to ESPN's latest list.
College football writer Bill Connelly took on the task of ranking the 60-best college quarterbacks of the 2000s, and Kaepernick made the cut. While that seems like an obvious call, some great gun-slingers didn't make the list, including Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott, among others (neither did Nevada assistant coach Timmy Chang, who had a record-breaking career at Hawaii).
Kaepernick was ranked ahead of future NFL stars like Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Eli Manning and Josh Allen as well as top draft picks like David Carr, Joey Harrington, Alex Smith and Byron Leftwich and Heisman Trophy winners Jason White, Eric Crouch and Troy Smith. So where did he land? 29th.
Connelly writes of Kaepernick, who played for Nevada from 2007-10: "It takes the perfect quarterback to fully understand the potential of a given offensive system, and Kaepernick was the perfect muse for Chris Ault's revolutionary Pistol. As a senior, he threw for 3,022 yards, rushed for 1,206 and led the Pack to 13 wins and No. 11 in the AP poll."
Kaepernick is a tricky player to rank in this setting. Statistically, he's unprecedented. Literally. No quarterback other than Kaepernick has thrown for 10,000 yards and rushed for 4,000 at the FBS level. The closest to do that was his successor Cody Fajardo, who fell 341 passing yards and 518 rushing yards shy of those two marks). Kaepernick also is the only player in FBS history with three seasons of at least 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. He's the only college player to account for 350 points with his arm and legs. His name is in the NCAA record book 17 times.
Kaepernick, who accounted for 14,210 yards and 141 touchdowns (82 passing, 59 rushing) against 24 interceptions in his career, put up ridiculous numbers. But it takes more than that to be a remembered college football player. It takes wins. And Kaepernick grabbed those, too. He was 32-16 as a starter at Nevada, leading the Wolf Pack to the best season in school history in 2010, a 13-1 campaign that is the only time the Wolf Pack has been ranked in its FBS era. Nevada finished that season 11th in the AP Top 25.
No, Kaepernick didn't play in a power conference, and that likely hurt his ranking more than anything because the stats and historic winning is on his side. His closest comp from a statistical standpoint is former Florida star Tim Tebow, who accounted for 12,232 yards (1,978 fewer than Kaepernick) and 145 touchdowns (four more than Kaepernick) while playing four more games than Kaepernick (55 to 51). Tebow also had a better quarterback rating (170.8 to 142.5) and fewer interceptions (16 to 24). But the numbers are close. And Tebow ended up fourth on ESPN's list. He played against SEC competition and won two national championships. Kaepernick played in the WAC. How would he have fared in the SEC? It's impossible to know, but given his was a good NFL quarterback, I'm sure he would have been fine.
I'm not saying there's a bias against non-power conference quarterbacks, but you have to take level of competition into account. In fact, only three players ranked higher than Kaepernick on the list came from non-power conferences, those being No. 26. Ben Roethlisberger, from Miami (Ohio); No. 22 Case Keenum, from Houston; and No. 14 Kellen Moore, from Boise State. Thankfully, we got to see Moore and Kaepernick play against each other three times in college.
Moore went 50-3 as a starter, with one of those losses coming to Kaepernick's Wolf Pack in 2010 (his other two losses were to TCU). If he more luck with his kickers, Moore could have went 52-1. The lefty threw for 14,667 yards and 142 touchdowns while posting a 169 quarterback rating as Boise State won four conference championships and a Fiesta Bowl. That winning, which included a 6-0 record against power-conference teams, boosts Moore's résumé. Kaepernick's teams had one great season; Moore's had four.
You could argue either way on whether Kaepernick was accurately ranked (Rex Grossman was one spot ahead of him). It depends on how much value you put on playing in a power conference as well as team wins. But Kaepernick deserved to be on the list, and he's ranked in front of some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and among the best Group of 5 quarterbacks over the last two decades. The merging of Kaepernick's skills and Ault's scheme was a magnificent one, something that might not be replicated in college football again.