Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 shifts focus to undrafted free-agent quarterback Nick Mullens and his prospectus this season.
That’s right, the San Francisco 49ers actually have four quarterbacks on their 90-man offseason roster.
They are, of course, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, C.J. Beathard and former Southern Mississippi’s Nick Mullens.
Mullens, signed by San Francisco as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft, will have a long way to go to secure a spot on the Niners roster this season. Basically an impossibility, which makes him a plausible candidate for the practice squad his rookie year.
The 6-foot-1, 187-pound Mullens saw significant time over four collegiate years, completing 60 percent of his passes and posting a near 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio:
Right now, the Niners are likely looking at Mullens as little more than a developmental piece. Beathard, taken in Round 3 of the draft, certainly holds more of the attention.
But can Mullens make enough of a case for himself to warrant long-term consideration?
Let’s take a look at what he might bring to the table between now and the regular season.
San Francisco 49ers
Why He’ll Improve
Despite running a spread offense at Southern Mississippi, Mullens has shown enough talent to warrant consideration for pro-style attacks.
Here’s what Pro Football Focus‘ scouting report had to say about him:
- Smooth, efficient release. Natural passer.
- Consistently throws on balance and shows proper footwork for the given route combination.
- Good accuracy to each level of the field but excels in quick game and intermediate routes in the middle of the field.
- Anticipates throws in zone windows very well.
- Good overall feel for the passing game and the type of throw needed. Shows great touch.
He’s also played through injury, which is never a bad thing to consider at the NFL level. Quarterback toughness is a quick way to earn the respect of teammates.
Good timing and accuracy, as listed above, are other traits necessary in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system. Well, they’re important for any offensive scheme. But the complex nature of Shanahan’s offense highlights this just a bit more.
Why He’ll Regress
One of the big knocks against Mullens is his smallish frame. Sure, the height is OK. But his 187-pound weight likely won’t be able to withstand the rigors of the NFL level. While smaller quarterbacks, like Drew Brees or Russell Wilson, have shown they can manage taking hits, these are surely the exception and not the rule.
Both of those QBs also have strong arms, and Mullens does not. His PFF scouting report also suggests underthrown balls on deep passes, which can get him into trouble.
Another factor to consider goes back to the complexity of Shanahan’s offense. Mullens would be going from a relatively simple approach to one of the toughest in the NFL today.
Such a transition doesn’t bode well for Mullens’ chances to make the roster.
Which leads us to our next question.
What to Expect in 2017
Almost every UDFA selected anywhere views the practice squad as the best chance to stick around with a team beyond the preseason.
In Mullens’ situation, this would be the best-case scenario.
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San Francisco is likely to keep three QBs on its roster this season, the last of which being Beathard. He’s the developmental piece the Niners may view as a long-term option, not Mullens.
If Mullens winds up having a decent training camp and sees meaningful reps during the preseason, there’s a good chance he winds up on the practice squad.
Don’t expect anything higher than that though.