49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: C.J. Beathard at a crossroads

C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

C.J. Beathard has a lot on the table entering 2020, both for the 49ers and his NFL future.

It’s possible 2020 winds up being a watershed year for San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard, who just so happens to enter a contract year after the Niners selected him in Round 3 of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Trying to judge the return San Francisco has received from Beathard is hard to do, at least in terms of reconciling it against that third-round investment. On one hand, Round 3 players don’t carry anything close to the kind of weight first-round picks carry.

But they’re not late day-three picks, either.

Beathard, of course, developed a reputation for toughness after being prematurely thrown into the fray his rookie season, then again after spelling the starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, early in 2018 after Jimmy G suffered his torn ACL. Yet Beathard was replaced by his fellow backup, Nick Mullens late that year, and Mullens just so happened to secure the primary backup job behind Garoppolo in 2019.

Yet head coach Kyle Shanahan elected to keep all three quarterbacks on the 49ers’ 53-man roster last season. And while Beathard was a weekly inactive for the entire season, he still managed to hold onto that roster spot.

Can the same be said for Beathard entering 2020?

Based off the former Iowa signal-caller’s pro-level efforts, probably not. A 1-9 career record is only part of the issue here:

C.J. Beathard Passing Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/4/2020.

Those career numbers — a 57.3 completion percentage and 74.6 passer rating — ranked towards the very bottom among qualifiers between 2017 and 2018. And with three years’ time in Shanahan’s offense, it’s hard to project Beathard getting significantly better.

But that also means there’s plenty of room for improvement, and here’s how it could happen.

Why C.J. Beathard Improves with 49ers in 2020

Aside from the proverbial “he could put it all together this year” statement, which is certainly possible, Beathard would need to enjoy the best training camp of his career.

This, because Mullens is easily the favorite to secure the primary backup job again this season. If the 49ers moved him for draft compensation, Beathard would be the favorite to back up Garoppolo. Since that didn’t happen, the non-move could provide some necessary motivation for Beathard to push his prowess further.

Upgrades along the deeper portions of the wide receiver corps could help here, particularly the draft additions of wideouts Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings, along with healthy returns of receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd.

These four players, who’ll likely spend some time on the second-team offense, should add to Beathard’s prowess. But he’ll have to navigate the pocket better, too, which hasn’t been his strength.

Fortunately, swapping out left tackle Joe Staley (retirement) for Trent Williams could provide better pass protection for Beathard’s blind side.

Why C.J. Beathard Regresses with 49ers in 2020

When Beathard entered the league in 2017, the general consensus is he’d be little more than an adequate backup at the pro level.

Yes, there have been some solid moments here and there, particularly with Beathard taking some big hits within the pocket. But generally speaking, his pocket awareness has never been a strength. Neither has dealing with pressure, as his 45.8 passer rating while under pressure in 2018 ranked 46th out of 50 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus.

This points to the idea Beathard essentially “is who he is” at this point in his career, and there haven’t been any notable signs of improvement in the areas previously mentioned.

On top of that, Shanahan choosing Mullens as the primary backup last year likely puts Beathard into the third-string category heading into training camp, which will ultimately cost those vital and more-numerous first- and second-string reps with the starting cast of offensive players.

Could Beathard thrive enough to finally make that leap?

Chances of Making the 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2020

If there were doubts about the Niners keeping Beathard on their 53-man roster before 2019, those doubts are increased exponentially this year.

Much of this is contractually based. Heading into year four of his rookie contract, San Francisco owes Beathard $1.12 million if he’s on the roster this season. But if the team elects to let him go, only $176,572 of that becomes dead money.

Nearly $1 million is a lot to pay out for a third-string quarterback.

There won’t be any trade market for Beathard, so fans should rule that out right away. If he can’t stick it out on the roster, he’ll be cut. It’s that simple.

So the ultimate factors at play here revolve first around whether or not Beathard can have the combined training camp and preseason of his life and/or whether or not Shanahan wants to use another spot on his roster for a third quarterback.

If either case pans out, there’s a chance Beathard plays out his contract in San Francisco even if he doesn’t see the field.

Next. 5 players who could be cut without playing a snap for 49ers. dark

If not, though, it’s almost impossible to think Beathard winds up on the 53-man roster this season. And that could ultimately signal a serious danger for the rest of his pro career.