The Science Of Colin Kaepernick
    By Hank Campbell | January 20th 2013 01:00 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is going to take the field in two hours and it won't just be a vindication of the decision by coach Jim Harbaugh to replace Alex Smith and his 13-3 run with a passer rating over 100 - Harbaugh can't lose in the eyes of the public even if the team does - it will be a vindication of science.

    Scouting is tricky business, supposedly due to 'intangibles' scouts can only detect holding stopwatches and making athletes do meaningless exercises. You don't get this in the film version of "Moneyball", it is just another story about the Underdog who overthrows Convention, but in the book, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane says of his own baseball playing days and scouting - no one ever asked him if he really wanted to be a baseball player. Not in the cursory sense, obviously you don't make your way to a contract at all if you aren't liking it and good at it - but want it. It's little wonder he thought there had to be a better system than watching guys throw and hit and deciding to throw millions of dollars at them. There are some intangibles, 'football smarts', but NFL history shows the traditionally smartest people don't do all that well.

    Matthew Barrows of the Sacramento Bee talks about John Brenkus, host of "Sport Science" on ESPN. Kaepernick is a vindication for him too. While everyone was talking about Cam Newton, Brenkus was analyzing players who were not already deemed the first pick of the 2011 draft. In his California lab, he used every biomechanical tool available to measure players and Kaepernick was a lights out star across the board. So the skinny, tattoo-covered young man from the University of Nevada was extolled by Brenkus and yet immediately dismissed as an 'academic' pick and not a football savvy one. He went to the 49ers in the second round when the staff was looking for an athletic option backup for the more traditional Alex Smith, who was a first round pick and was good in the opinions of scouts, only to have a spotty career before Harbaugh arrived as his coach.

    The analysis by Brenkus showed he was more than a backup quarterback who could run.  And that meant the scouting combine teams used really wasn't showing an accurate picture of what quarterbacks could do, unless you think a standing broad jump is going to determine NFL success when angry 300 lb. men are trying to cripple you.

    The strange, awesome delivery of Colin Kaepernick. Link and credit: Paul Kitagaki, Jr., Sacramento Bee

    While scouts with stopwatches criticized his odd delivery, Brenkus measured eye ocularity and release and accuracy and found that eye trackers showed he was registering in measures like 'how fast to detect where to throw the ball' and then releasing it at the levels of elite quarterbacks, the 0.2-0.4 second range.  Brenkus insisted Kaepernick, not Cam Newton, was the best pick in the draft based on fundamentals.

    Kaepernick tested before he lit up the NFL.

    In a way, he was the best pick. Newton is obviously terrific but for money spent and criticism, the choice to start Kaepernick is already near Tom Brady and Kurt Warner levels of admiration.

    Brady and Warner are two reminders of how some science can help NFL scouting; scouts picked Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell in the first round, Brady was picked in the 6th round of the 2000 draft and Warner didn't get picked at all in 1994 but they both own Super Bowl rings. 

    Brenkus is a serious guy so maybe more scouts will listen now. How many NFL scouts have been choked in the name of science? Or nailed in the groin with a 90 MPH fastball?


    I don't think I've ever seen an NFL quarterback, let alone a big QB, accelerate like he does. 
    Yes, he is the anti-Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben is about to get hit and guys bounce off him and he keeps going. Colin just sort of disappears and shows up 25 yards later. 
    The problem in these things is never the science it's quantifying what is important and what should be measured as your indicators and someone has put there ego and indicators on the line :-)

    BTW Hank are you going to review your EPO and Lance Armstrong article now or does it still not matter he took EPO?

    I was talking about this yesterday at my son's birthday party. My question was, when Lance came up and someone mentioned that numerous books were going to be written about him, etc., was 'would you read a book showing he thinks it helped but it did not actually help?' and everyone in a sample of five thought that was an interesting take - but no one sounded like they were going to run out to buy it because it's too nuanced. It's not worth it to do another article here and reach 10-20,000 people with it.

    The science is relatively settled that it wasn't helping him (at his level - if just adding more of something was guaranteed to have infinite improvement, we wouldn't be worried about CO2, since plants absorb it), and he even said his EPO usage was minute. Probably because he realized it did not help him and his doctors read every paper out there.

    Anyway, there isn't much new to add unless someone comes along and writes a check says 'write an article showing his EPO performance enhancement was all in his head'. Maybe I'll do a Kindle Single or something, 10-15,000 words, if the media gets it all wrong again.
    The problem for me is you still have no got the issue that he broke the rules of the contest. Those rules exist because they can lead to a competitive advantage whether they do or not is not the issue here.

    The olympic creed sworn at the beginning of the ceremony on behalf of the athletes sums it up

    "In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams"

    Forget even the drugs bit they are to abide by the rules

    The orginal 1920 olympic version look like this

    "We swear. We will take part in the Olympic Games in a spirit of chivalry, for the honour of our country and for the glory of sport"

    My problem with your original argument still remains that he broke the rules deliberately and knowingly and he is thus rightfully labelled a cheat and shamed.

    In sport which is supposed to be about the purest and most basic form of competition the 1921 oath summed it up best "spirit of chivalry" and "glory of sport" and Lance failed those criteria badly.

    An entire generation of cyclists broke the rules of the contest. In his mind, he was leveling the playing field by using the best science available to optimize his training. And he was right, most of them were cheating.

    Regardless, if EPO did not help him - and it did not - the effect was purely mental.  We might as well outlaw those nasal breathing strips and copper bracelets that some football players swear helps them.
    In his Opera interview, he said that it was extremely unlikely he could have won seven tours without the drugs and doping. He also said EPO was massively beneficial.

    For me, the worst part was the attacking of others, repeated lying, and holier-than-thou attitude about doping. Most cheated, but his attitude was plain wrong. Think how much better it would have been if after a tour or two, he admitted it, worked to bring it down, and then single-handedly saved years of cycling cheating. Then he'd have been the hero he loved being.

    In his Opera interview, he said that it was extremely unlikely he could have won seven tours without the drugs and doping. He also said EPO was massively beneficial.
    I think, if other people were doping and he was not, then he could not have won 7. And it's nice he thinks EPO helped him, but studies don't show it can have helped. It made him think he had an advantage and for an elite competitor, sometimes that is enough.
    In his Opera interview..
    Is "Opera" Oprah's new nickname? :)