49ers’ 2019 ‘Who Is?’ series: Quarterback Nick Mullens

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to their game against the Oakland Raiders at Levi's Stadium on November 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to their game against the Oakland Raiders at Levi's Stadium on November 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

A year ago, few outside San Francisco 49ers circles knew quarterback Nick Mullens’ name. Entering 2019, he has the chance to secure a crucial backup role on the roster.

In Week 9 of the San Francisco 49ers‘ 2018 campaign, undrafted quarterback Nick Mullens found himself poised to make his first NFL start on Thursday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders.

Before that night, hardly anyone knew Mullens’ name, aside from Niners fans and those associated with his alma mater, Southern Mississippi.

But Mullens helped San Francisco torch its cross-bay rivals, even getting himself verified on Twitter during the contest.

Entering year three of his pro career, Mullens now finds himself embroiled in a hopefully unimportant, yet provocative battle for the No. 2 quarterback job behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Mullens’ brief sample size within the NFL ranks suggests he’s a better option than his competition, C.J. Beathard.

Nick Mullens Passing Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/20/2019.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has insisted both Mullens and Beathard will have an equal shot to secure the backup job.

But is it even a close argument? Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Nick Mullens Improves in 2019

Mullens might not have the best arm strength. What he does possess, however, is a knack for getting the ball out quickly when facing pressure. He was also much more notably poised within the pocket when compared to his counterpart, Beathard.

Sure, the 13-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio from last season isn’t great, and Mullens was responsible for a number of turnovers (arguably San Francisco’s biggest problem last year), but one has to figure the lack of offensive weapons Mullens had at his support.

Essentially, only wide receiver Dante Pettis and tight end George Kittle were serviceable options in the passing game on a regular basis that point in the season.

The Niners spent considerable effort reinforcing their offense during the offseason, which should serve to improve Mullens’ prowess.

If he ever has to see the field, of course.

Why Nick Mullens Regresses

A big reason why Mullens seemingly shot out of nowhere last season was then-49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, who since has left the organization to become the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

It’s anyone’s guess how much this affects Mullens, but it’s something to note.

On top of that, it will be interesting to see how Mullens reacts this training camp and preseason to the camp competition with Beathard. Both had up-and-down moments during organized team activities and minicamp, and Mullens will no longer “surprise” anyone during the 49ers’ upcoming preseason contests.

The turnovers from last season are still alarming, too. And while it’s possible Mullens winds up making strides, it’s just as easy to assume his late 2018 efforts were merely a “flash in the pan.”

Projected Role with the 49ers in 2019

KNBR 680’s Al Sacco pretty much summed up why Mullens gets the No. 2 job over Beathard, writing:

"With Beathard behind center, the 49ers have struggled to do two things: Hold onto the football and score points. In the 10 games Beathard’s been the starting quarterback, San Francisco has turned the ball over 22 times. … When it was all said and done, the 49ers have averaged about 17 points per game with Beathard. …As far as points scored, San Francisco averaged 21 per game with Mullens and broke 20 points five times in eight tries."

The on-field numbers don’t lie. San Francisco was far more successful last season with Mullens under center than Beathard.

This, of course, creates something of a dilemma. Shanahan isn’t likely to keep two backup quarterbacks this season, meaning one of the two candidates is probably jettisoned by Week 1.

Ideally, the 49ers would move Beathard. But his trade value is exceptionally low, while Mullens’ is arguably much higher. That said, having a decent backup to Garoppolo is awfully important.

dark. Next. 3 enticing position battles to watch in 49ers training camp

Both quarterbacks’ performances this training camp and preseason will go a long way in determining the team’s future here. So will a trade market, which is yet to be determined.

Regardless, the 49ers still hope Mullens never has to see a meaningful snap in 2019.