SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Cam Newton was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. The San Francisco 49ers had no chance to move up and get him. They happily took quarterback Colin Kaepernick 35 picks later.
On Sunday, the two dynamic young quarterbacks will play against each other in the NFL for the first time as the Carolina Panthers visit San Francisco.
The two were roommates at the NFL combine, and life has been good for both since. Kaepernick has had more tangible success even though, unlike Newton, he didn’t become a starter until midway through his second season. Kaepernick has been to a Super Bowl. He has playoff wins on his résumé despite starting only 18 NFL games.
Newton, spectacular as a rookie and helter-skelter last season, has settled down and has the look of quarterback who may soon see postseason success. He has led the Panthers to four straight wins after a rough 1-3 start. Kaepernick is also rolling, leading his team to five straight wins.
“Everything’s a competition, from being at the combine to being at practice to being in a game,” Kaepernick said. “Everything’s a competition.”
Kaepernick plays with a chip on his shoulder. He enjoyed beating the Titans in Week 7 and the Jaguars in Week 8. Like Carolina, those teams took quarterbacks in the first round in 2011.
It’s difficult to argue the Panthers blew it when they took Newton over Kaepernick. Newton has a big future, and Kaepernick was considered more of a project. But it is clear the 49ers are pleased the way it went down. Kaepernick is perfect athletically and emotionally to run Jim Harbaugh’s offense.
While Harbaugh called Newton’s talents “plutonium grade,” he would surely roll with Kaepernick. Harbaugh played along when a reporter suggested Kaepernick should be the 49ers’ scout-team quarterback this week to help prepare to face Newton.
“That’s a good idea. That’s a very good idea because they are so similar. And in ability, and makeup, and confidence, and in so many ways, talent,” Harbaugh said. “They’re both great. And that’s not a bad idea at all.”
I asked ESPN analyst Matt Williamson who he would rather have, Newton or Kaepernick?
“I will say that Newton is playing better [against some suspect teams] than CK right now, but I still take CK, as he is just a better pure passer,” Williamson said. “Newton has taken a lot more snaps in the NFL than CK. Just wait until CK has that experience under his belt.”
The numbers suggest a team couldn’t go wrong with either Newton or Kaepernick these days. They have been the top two rated quarterbacks in the NFL in the past month. Kaepernick’s Total QBR since Week 6 is a league-leading 94.1. Newton is second at 83.5.
Ted Ginn is an authority on both. He played with Kaepernick the past two years and is now teammates with Newton.
"They both have something a lot people don’t have, and they use it,” Ginn said Wednesday. “Speed. They can run."
On Sunday, the two young quarterbacks will try to outrun, outthrow and outscore each other.