CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It blows the mind of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. every time he thinks about Colin Kaepernick being a backup quarterback at San Francisco.
Ginn was with the 49ers during the 2012 season when Kaepernick almost single-handedly led them to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII against Baltimore.
He was on the opposite sideline in 2013 when Kaepernick ran for a touchdown and threw for another in a 23-10 victory over the Panthers that propelled San Francisco to a second straight NFC Championship game.
Back then, it appeared Kaepernick was headed for superstardom. Back then, Newton was improving but still a middle-of-the-road quarterback.
Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick have gone in opposite directions since meeting in the 2013 playoffs. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Now look at them. Newton (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) is the reigning NFL MVP, considered among the top four quarterbacks in the league. Kaepernick (6-4, 230) is best known now as the quarterback that kneels during the national anthem as a protest to social injustice.
So what happened?
"I don't really know, " Ginn said. "With the players he had around him and the success he had in his first couple of years, the defense that he had, it was basically easy for him.
"Now you [get to] a Super Bowl, people come, people leave, things happen. I just think he got overwhelmed in his field and he dropped a little bit."
Change that "a bit" to "a lot."
Heading into the 2014 season, Kaepernick was rated a Tier 2 quarterback by ESPN. Here is some of what was said:
"Kaepernick can affect the game on so many levels, " a defensive coordinator said. "He's been to a Super Bowl, been in a championship game. He has kind of revolutionized some stuff. He is a different kind of 'two' than most of them, more multidimensional." Kaepernick, like [Seattle’s Russell] Wilson, has benefited from a dominant defense and running game, and his team hasn't asked him to carry the offense week after week.
But he's been resilient. "Last year, there were a number of people injured and he still kept finding ways to win, " a different defensive coordinator said. "Those kind of guys who show that moxie at quarterback, as a defensive coach, that does factor [in] to me. It is not necessarily all based on their stats."
Newton, if you remember, was a Tier 3 quarterback.
Players with the ability to escape the pocket and run have less incentive to become polished pocket passers, according to some. That is one reason a number of defensive backs I've spoken with think Newton and others with similar skill sets might never move into the top tier.
Heading into the 2016 season, Newton was at the top of Tier 2, trailing only Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger.
"It is a resounding 1 for me, " said a defensive coordinator who has faced Newton multiple times. "Guess who is the cornerstone of their running game? It's Cam Newton. Guess who is the cornerstone of their passing game? It's Cam Newton. Who are his wide receivers? He has [tight end] Greg Olsen. How about anybody else? He goes out there and gets it done consistently. He has a big, powerful arm. He is not a great passer, but he is a great thrower. He can carry your football team."
There has never been another quarterback with Newton's combination of size, speed, strength, running ability and throwing ability. If he is not a 1, he is not far off.
Kaepernick was rated a Tier 4 quarterback coming into this season.
Voters saw Kaepernick's performance at Arizona early last season as a giant red flag. Kaepernick wasn't just bad while throwing four picks during a Week 3 defeat, he appeared lost. Voters have gone from evaluating technical aspects of Kaepernick's game - a throwing motion that hinders getting the ball up and down the seam, as one offensive coordinator put it - to asking more existential questions.
"There is something missing with him, " another offensive coordinator said.
Ginn didn’t see that coming for Kaepernick.
"He's still a No. 1 quarterback in his eyes, " Ginn said. "He's still a No. 1 quarterback in some of these [other] team's eyes. He just has to overcome some of the things around him."
Let's look at some of the statistical breakdowns supplied by ESPN Stats and Info as to why Kaepernick went south after the 2013 season and Newton’s stock began to rise.
First, Kaepernick's effectiveness in the pocket suffered. He went from 25 touchdown passes in 2012-13 to 16 from 2014 until now. Newton went from 40 touchdown passes in 2012-13 to 57 since.
Kaepernick's performance also suffered after the 49ers went from a ground-oriented team with a top-ranked defense to one that relied heavily on a three-wide-receiver set and a defense that was less than stellar.
Twenty-eight percent of his passes had a three receiver set in 2012-13, compared to 55 percent since.
Kaepernick and Newton had nearly identical rushing statistics out of the zone-read offense from 2012-13. Since then, Newton has 1, 396 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, compared to 895 yards and two touchdowns for Kaepernick.
Newton also has benefited from a top 10 defense the past three years. The 49ers ranked 29th in total defense last season after a run of four straight years in the top 10.
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