SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Coverage of the San Francisco 49ers

Niners' Deep Passing Game Could Flourish

Stats show Kaepernick was very good on longer throws in 2013, even with a less-talented WR corps than he will have in 2014

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    Anquan Boldin (left) was one of Colin Kaepernick's only trustworthy targets in 2013. That won't be the case in 2014. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    Among NFL quarterbacks in 2013, Colin Kaepernick ranked 32nd in the league in passing yards per game.

    In his first full season as a starter, he averaged just 200 yards.

    But as training camp is showing, that number may get seriously better in 2014.

    With another season of experience, a strong offseason program and a much deeper and more talented corps of wide receivers, Kaepernick seems destined to have more than two 300-yard-plus  games this season – his total in 2013.

    “It makes it a lot easier when you have four 1,000-yard receivers out there,” Kaepernick recently told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, referring to Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. “It’s something we’re excited as quarterbacks, as an offense and as a team.”

    Kaepernick says Crabtree is “a step or two quicker” than he was late last season after coming back from an Achilles tear, and he’s shown good chemistry with all of his receivers, including newcomers such as Johnson, Lloyd and rookie Bruce Ellington.

    Plus, for a young quarterback still polishing his game, Kaepernick has had very good success throwing the ball long – even with a thin group of wideouts over the past two years.

    As Bryan Knowles of Bleacher Report recently noted, using data from Pro Football Focus, Kaepernick was at his best on throws from 11-20, 21-30 and 20-plus yards last season.

    On throws between 21-30 yards, he graded 11th in the NFL and had a completion percentage of 47.2 percent, higher than the league average and better than such QBs as Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. On passes in that range, he threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.

    Pro Football Focus gave him an even higher grade on 20-plus-yard throws overall, when he completed 21-of-57 passes for 683 yards and six TDs vs. two picks.

    Now consider that in 2013, Kaepernick’s options were limited beyond Boldin, tight end Vernon Davis and Crabtree (when he returned for the final five games). Wideouts Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Jon Baldwin and Marlon Moore provided very little, and Quinton Patton – who showed promise – was often hurt.

    It seems reasonable that the Niners should be able to connect on a much better percentage of those deeper balls with better receivers.

    Already in training camp, Kaepernick is connecting well with the wideout corps. On Tuesday, for instance, he was 20-of-24 passing against defenders. He’s putting the ball where it needs to be, and the receivers are pulling it in.

    This week, Kaepernick told the media that the offense is “at a great point right now.”

    “I think everyone’s very confident with what we’re doing and feeling good with what we’re doing,” he said. “But we have to continue to get better.”