The numbers say Colin Kaepernick deserves same NFL shot as Cam Newton

Sporting News

Colin Kaepernick hasn't been on an NFL roster in more than three years since becoming a free agent quarterback in March 2017. But for the first time since he decided to kneel in protest during the national anthem four offseasons ago, the league-wide stigma attached to him seems lifted — to the point some team should consider signing him for training camp.

Now that Cam Newton has ended his long free agency by signing with the Patriots, there's even more justification for Kaepernick to get on a roster. When comparing what they've done in their careers as contemporaries, the statistical evidence states Kaepernick is at least worthy of a flier.

With both Newton and Kaepernick and their varied unsigned stretches, it's been natural to point to several QBs of much lower upside and lesser physical skills getting starting or backup deal instead. But in those cases, because Newton and Kaepernick belong with more creative offenses that can maximize their running abilities, those teams settled for system-based traditional pocket passers.

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Newton and Kaepernick, however, are of similar molds and backgrounds, making a direct comparison between the two more apt. Newton was the Panthers' No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, 35 spots before the 49ers took Kaepernick in the second round. Newton just turned 31, while Kaepernick will be 33 in November.

Both QBs have looked like unstoppable forces at times during their respective heights of passing and rushing prowess. Kaepernick's play pushed the 49ers into Super Bowl 47, while Newton, as league MVP in 2015, followed suit for the Panthers in route to Super Bowl 50.

On the flip side, there has been major erratic play from both QBs, where their accuracy and efficiency have let them down and kept them well short of their big-armed ceilings. The running game has given both Kaepernick and Newton a strong baseline of production, but each QB also has endured his share of injuries from wear and tear, from work both in and out of the pocket.

That all leads up to this: Kaepernick and Newton's key numbers are eerily similar. Although Newton has played nine full seasons as a starter in contrast to Kaepernick's four, keep in mind that Newton wasn't faced with same unofficial exile from the league.

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Colin Kaepernick's career stats

Completion percentage

Passer rating

Yards per passing attempt

Yards per rushing attempt

59.8

88.9

7.3

6.1

Cam Newton's career stats

Completion percentage

Passer rating

Yards per passing attempt

Yards per rushing attempt

59.6

86.1

7.3

5.1

Before the NFL came around to accepting Kaepernick's push for social justice, there was an on-field narrative being built against him, to say his overall skills had diminished to the point he was no longer a valued QB. At the same time, there has been a sense that Newton simply needs to be healthy to return to his league-dominant 2015 form.

But looking at what Newton has done throughout his career, he's been mostly consistent with his average passing numbers and monster rushing numbers through different offensive coordinators, with 2015 representing more of anomalous spike than his true standard. In the same respect, because of recency bias, it's been convenient to think Kaepernick's shaky stint with Chip Kelly is the type of QB he really is, despite the fact his early career best with Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman bordered on top-flight play.

Newton, because of his high pedigree coming into the league as a dominant college player and physical freak, has had a built-in wow factor since coming into the league with Carolina, which fully manifested five seasons ago. Kaepernick came into the league as a backup in San Francisco and so far has had only a limited window to shine.

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Perception then says Newton's highs seem much higher, while Kapernick's lows seem much lower. The reality, however, is when looking at their stats as a whole, they level off to suggest two QBs with massive potential who more often than not, for a variety of reasons, have not played up to it.

Past numbers aside, Newton and Kaepernick also are equals in terms of having wild-card near futures. Will Newton's durability issues resurface in New England, further complicated by trying to adjust to absorb a complex offense? Does Kaepernick have too much rust with a three-season layoff to rediscover effectiveness as a passer or runner?

However you break it down, they both deserve to be in the league as late roster additions in 2020. Newton, with his bigger body of work, was overdue to try to reclaim a No. 1 gig. Given how little monetary risk the Patriots put into Newton to try to reap those rewards, the market says signing Kaepernick at much lower cost is a no-brainer.

If Newton is getting a chance to win the Patriots starting job vs. Jarrett Stidham, Kaepernick should at least get a shot to win some team's backup job vs. Joe Schmoe.

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