OK, I'm a believer.

I might be premature in this pronouncement, but Colin Kaepernick is the next evolutionary step in quarterbacks.

From Sammy Baugh to Johnny U. to Peyton Manning to Kaepernick (OK, I could be skipping a few steps).

Even if he crashes and burns in Sunday's Super Bowl, we've seen the future, and it's a linebacker-sized, tattoo-and-cannon-armed sprinter who talks trash, runs like a quarter-miler, throws like Bert Jones and could probably play most positions on the field. In other words, he's a real football player, which has hardly been the case for generations of quarterbacks.

Maybe you didn't like the way Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers' cocky head coach, put Kaepernick in the lineup, benching Alex Smith when he deserved better. But no one can argue with the kid's game.

He's Dan Marino, with legs – he'd leave Cam Newton and Tim Tebow in his dust with his 4.4 speed.

He's Michael Vick, with a brain – he can read defenses and throw from the pocket and doesn't suffer from the dreaded run-first, happy-feet syndrome.

He's what Newton could be.

He's what Vick could have been.

He's what Tim Tebow was supposed to be.

He's what Russell Wilson is close to being.

He's what Robert Griffin III will be if he returns from injury.

He's Steve Young, with size – 6-foot-41/2, 230 pounds – and a howitzer arm.

At the 2011 NFL combine, it was reported that Kaepernick had the strongest arm among the 16 quarterbacks present, with throws registering 59 miles per hour. He can throw a baseball 95 miles per hour, which is why he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. One former receiver claims Kaepernick's throws tore his gloves. Randy Moss claims his passes knocked a finger out of joint. Tight end Vernon Davis asked him to take something off his throws.

Kaepernick can stand in the pocket and deliver passes. He can run the read option. He can scramble and find receivers on the run. He can run over defenders. He can throw underneath. He can throw over the top. He can go through his progressions. He can see the field. He can run and pass equally well, but doesn't play with the run-first mentality that retarded Vick's development.

In 10 regular season games he rushed for 415 yards and passed for 1,814 yards. In one of the best performances ever delivered by a quarterback, he ran for 181 yards and passed for 263 against the Packers in the playoffs.

It would be understatement to note that the NFL's conservative notions of a quarterback are changing rapidly. For decades, the quarterback was one of the least athletic players on the field (Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, or, more recently, Brady, the Manning brothers, Phillip Rivers). They handed off the ball or stood in the pocket and passed, and that was it. They were statues, with arms. Now, a new generation of young, athletic quarterbacks has emerged – Kaepernick, Newton, Tebow, Griffin, Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck – who can run or pass. Many of them are utilized like an extra running back on designed running plays, something no coach would have done only a decade or so ago.

So much for the theory that the spread offense and the read option can't succeed in the NFL. It was believed that NFL defenses were too fast and athletic for the college style of play and that it would expose quarterbacks to injury.

The spread offense has spread to the NFL game, clearing the way for the evolvement of the quarterback and the likes of Kaepernick, Wilson, Newton, Griffin and, at least for a season, Tebow. The advantage is obvious. Defenses must account for the running threat of the quarterback. On pass plays they can't drop as many defenders into coverage. On running plays, the offense has a numerical advantage in the box because the defense can no longer ignore the quarterback (and, too, the offense doesn't block the end on option plays – they "read" him – freeing an extra blocker). When Kaepernick saw the Packers' defensive end come flat down the line of scrimmage, he pulled the ball from the running back and ran around the end 56 yards for a touchdown.

Then again, it does have the anticipated hazard of exposing the quarterback to injury. Griffin suffered a serious knee injury, and Vick has suffered from the hits he has taken as a runner and a passer.

With his size and speed, Kaepernick seems almost invulnerable. On Sunday, the future of the game will be on full display.

email: drob@desnews.com