Posted: 2:48 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, 2013
How we all doin' today? Did you miss me? Do you even remember me? It's okay if you don't. I, just like you, have had a lot of alcohol since February 3rd.
Why since that day? Oh, well, ya' know, that's just the day the 49ers lost their first Super Bowl.
Oops. I'm sorry. Had you forgotten about that? My bad.
I've been trying -- and failing miserably -- to do the same thing over the past two months. Hence why I haven't written or read a thing about football until roughly a week ago.
I hope you will understand my rather lengthy grieving period. Being that my knowledge of college football is close to nil, and the primary niche I had worked myself into here on NN was advanced stats and All-22 work, you can understand that this particular portion of the off-season offers little to me other than a painful reminder that, just like last year, the 49ers came oh-so-close and did not succeed.
But, there is hope. For a San Francisco squad that is arguably the most talented in the league, with the best offensive line, the stoutest defense (when not injured), an elite coaching staff, and a sure-fire future league MVP at quarterback, there is hope.
And so, from this point forward, I bring nothing but good news about why the 49ers are destined for great things.
It's not homerism if it's true.
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Jim Harbaugh is soon to enter his third year as a head coach.
Two of the greatest coaches of all time -- Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi -- won Super Bowls in their third year as coaches and headed on towards a dynasty (Lombardi technically won his first NFL Championship, since the Super Bowl did not yet exist, but you get the point).
While the former association is superstitious -- the main thing Walsh and Harbaugh have in common is that they both coached at Stanford before joining San Francisco at the age of 48 -- the latter association is more scientific.
The day after the Super Bowl, Chase Stuart of Football Perspective brought 49er fans that scientific hope in an article detailing the similarities between Jim Harbaugh's 49ers and Lombardi's Packers.
You see, in 1959, Vince Lombardi was a new head coach to the NFL. He took a team that had gone 1-10-1 the year prior and brought them to 7-5. A 6 game improvement that conveniently mirrors Harbaugh's 6 game improvement -- taking a 6-10 team to 13-3 in his rookie season.
By 1960, Lombardi's Packers had ascended the NFL standings and made their way to the championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Packers lost in the final seconds, 17-13, only 10 yards short from the winning touchdown.
The next year, they went 11-3 and won the NFL Championship; and they followed that performance with a repeat, going 13-1 and claiming a second-straight Championship.
How did he do it? Well, much like our current 49ers, most the starters on the team already existed somewhere on the roster before Lombardi ever arrived. Lombardi added a few pieces, but, most importantly, tapped into the potential of the players already there.
If you check out the charts in the original Stuart article, you will notice only 5 of the 22 starters on Lombardi's '60 squad that lost its NFL Championship appearance were new guys. The other 17 were somewhere on the roster before Lombardi ever arrived in 1959.
In fact, the 1958 Packers, despite being the worst team in the league, had 7 future Hall of Famers.
Do we have 7 future Hall of Famers on our roster that existed in 2010? I don't know. But you can look at guys like Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and Aldon Smith on defense, and Vernon Davis, Alex Boone, Joe Staley, and Frank Gore on offense, and say... maybe, just maybe, it's possible.
Regardless, the 49ers 2010 team was stacked with talent that was simply untapped. Harbaugh, like Lombardi before him, got the best out of guys who might otherwise have never realized their potential.
And that's not just a convenient piece of information to pad your blind faith in this year's squad; it's a legitimate compliment to Harbaugh's coaching prowess and to the talent already existing: the 2012 49ers featured 16 starters that were somewhere on the roster in 2010, when Harbaugh was still raising eyebrows at Stanford with Andrew Luck.
So perhaps Harbaugh, like Lombardi before him, and like Bill Walsh after that, will end his third year triumphant. Perhaps he will proceed in the years to come, like both men, to form a dynasty.
At the least, when you look at a team like the Ravens -- who lost much of their best talent and vastly over-payed for their quarterback -- you realize they are heading in the wrong direction. And when you look at the 49ers, you see a team who continues to be thrifty at all positions, is becoming a power-player in this draft and future ones, and who just improved at quarterback while simultaneously saving money at the position.
You see a team whose best days are ahead of them.
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Speaking of "best days ahead of them"... (brilliant segue)
... just like you and I are looking for a new beginning to wash our eyes and minds of a Super Bowl defeat, Colin "The Kid" Kaepernick will, about 5 months from now, begin his first, official, full season as the undisputed starter for our San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick, via his achievements this fall and winter, became the 6th youngest quarterback in history to start a Super Bowl. 4 of the 5 younger than him all lost, with the only exception being Tom Brady. The Kid will barely be 26 by next year's Super Bowl, which -- believe it or not -- would still make him the 11th youngest quarterback to earn a start at the big dance.
So good things are ahead for Colin. He is young, already successful, and has entered probably the best quarterback situation in the NFL in recent memory: possessing a coach who is, according to all available evidence, a certified signal-caller-guru; an innovative, ever-growing offensive scheme; a historically efficient run game; and the best offensive line in football.
On top of that, with Vernon Davis becoming more comfortable with his new quarterback, and Michael Crabtree becoming a legitimate #1, Kaep has the kind of outside help that many teams would envy.
Thus, when we look forward to Kaepernick's 2013 season, we first look back at 2012 and say, "That was only the beginning."
Last year, Colin ranked 3rd in ESPN's QBR as well as Football Outsider's DVOA, with only two Super Bowl MVP's themselves -- Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- ranked above him.
That is impressive. Perhaps more so, however, Colin ranked 1st in ANY/A, or adjusted net yards per attempt.
ANY/A is the passing stat most closely correlated with wins, but it is also the preferred stat of many a data wonk for judging quarterback performance.
How good was The Kid's ANY/A historically? Well, let's just say, if he up-and-retired tomorrow, Colin Kaepernick, at 7.55 ANY/A, would be #1 all time for a career.
Of course, that's only one year, and it's not the highest single-season ANY/A of all time; but it's a good start. If we grade it by its percentage over league average so that we can then compare it across eras, we get an ANY/A+ of 121.
Only 16 other quarterbacks in NFL history, 25 or younger, have posted an ANY/A+ over 115 during their first two years as a starter.
The list includes a variation of quality, from names most are unlikely to recognize (Greg Cook, Pat Haden) to former Super Bowl MVPs (Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning) to potential future stars (Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Matt Ryan).
Though the future is hard to predict, and one can not know for sure what Kaepernick will produce, there is, in my opinion, much reason for optimism.
Colin's name appearing in 2012 QB rankings alongside the likes of Brady and Peyton Manning is a start; and his league-leading ANY/A suggests he may have played the best of any QB this season.
The Kid will enter 2013 with the league's best offensive line, the league's best coaching staff, an increasingly-talented receiving corps, an efficient running game, and a dangerous defensive unit.
Combine that with Kaepernick's ability to make plays with both his arms and legs, his proven poise under pressure, and his already fantastic statistical start, and I think you get a force that will be competing well into January for years to come.
If nothing else, us 49er fans have a great reason to hope for our future. And for a 6th Lombardi.
Oh, by the way, during all that time off, I managed to finally capitulate on my refusal to ever create a Twitter account: @liberty_JAC. Looking forward to a grand off-season.