SANTA CLARA -- John Brenkus has a laboratory in Burbank. His most impressive breakthrough to date: Colin Kaepernick.
Before the 2011 NFL draft, Brenkus, who hosts "Sport Science" on ESPN, put Kaepernick and other top college quarterbacks through a battery of high-tech tests in which everything from acceleration to accuracy to arm strength was measured in the most minute detail.
When Brenkus tabulated the results, it wasn't Cam Newton who would be the No. 1 pick that April on top. It was the skinny, little-known quarterback from the University of Nevada.
"I would go on these radio shows, and people would ask, 'Who are the quarterbacks you like?' " Brenkus recalled. "And I'm saying Kaepernick, and it's almost like people never even knew who he was. 'Who? Well, what about Cam Newton?' "
Kaepernick's record-setting performance two weeks ago in the 49ers' 45-31 victory over Green Bay offers a bit of vindication for Brenkus and the value of his lab, which uses motion-capture photography, accelerometers anything a biomechanical engineer can dream of to predict NFL success.
Kaepernick's results that year underscore why defenses have struggled to keep pace with him at times this season. He didn't just do well on a couple of the tests; he got gold stars on all of them, Brenkus said.
"There aren't guys that are that fast, that have that strong an arm, that are that smart," Brenkus said. "What's awesome about him to me is that the physical ability is one thing. But you have to be really, really intelligent to be able to run the read-option at the NFL level."
Jim Harbaugh went into the draft that year seeking a well-rounded athlete, and that's exactly what he found early in the second round.
When Kaepernick was in eighth grade, his coaches looked at his long legs and lanky frame and stuck him at wide receiver and defensive back. He moved to quarterback in high school, but received more recognition for his fastball than football. He was drafted by the Cubs after his pitches were clocked at 92 mph, and a handful of Ivy League schools Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Cornell were interested in the brainy flamethrower from Turlock.
His tenacity and long-range jump shot helped land him in Reno. Former Nevada defensive line coach Barry Sacks watched him make one three-pointer after another during a highly charged game at Pitman High School, and then got on the phone with head coach Chris Ault. "We found our guy," Sacks said.
Kaepernick always has bristled at the notion he was just a running quarterback.
"I feel like pretty much my whole life I've been categorized as a runner," Kaepernick said recently.
Teammates insist there's no single aspect that makes Kaepernick difficult to defend. Rather, it's that he's multidimensional.
"If you ever notice, once he breaks the pocket, he's always looking down field," 49ers running back LaMichael James said. "He's looking to throw the ball more than run the ball.
"Once he takes off, he's faster than a lot of running backs and linebackers, so it really doesn't matter. He's an incredible athlete."
Brenkus said Kaepernick's success highlights the need for a better, more 21st-century approach to evaluating talent. He said traditional methods picture a gaggle of scouts armed with stop-watches at the annual scouting combine are antiquated and usually have no relevance to football.
"We feel that a quarterback broad-jumping is not going to tell you anything," Brenkus said.
Kaepernick's case also proves that sometimes the well-trained eyes of NFL evaluators can be deceived.
During the run-up to the draft, for instance, Kaepernick's long-armed delivery was scrutinized. The conclusion was he took too long to get rid of the ball, a critical flaw on the NFL level.
Brenkus, however, put Kaepernick and the other quarterbacks through what he calls "the accuracy test" at his lab. They were outfitted with eye trackers, which recorded exactly where they were looking, and they were placed in front of three targets.
When one of the targets lit up, the quarterbacks were asked to throw at it, and the time between recognition and release was recorded.
Kaepernick's release time was at what Brenkus said was the elite level between 0.3 and 0.4 seconds. A quarterback with a truly long and looping release Tim Tebow, for instance takes 0.6 seconds to get rid of the ball.
That difference may seem minuscule, Brenkus said, but not when you consider that an onrushing defender can cover 6 feet in a tenth of a second.
"He was just off the charts," Brenkus said of Kaepernick. "And I have amazing NFL quarterbacks to compare him to.
"I'm telling you, this guy is the best quarterback in that draft."
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