Broc Rutter to replace Nick Mullens as 49ers backup?

A detailed view of a San Francisco 49ers helmet (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
A detailed view of a San Francisco 49ers helmet (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The 49ers added undrafted quarterback Broc Rutter in 2020, potentially as a long-term option to replace the backup, Nick Mullens, down the road.

Editor’s update: Broc Rutter was waived by the Niners in a move to get the offseason roster down to 80 players. Should the team ink Rutter to its practice squad later in 2020, however, the following scenario could still apply.

Quarterbacks always generate a lot of buzz, and that’s nothing new for the San Francisco 49ers and their recent duo of undrafted free-agent selections, Nick Mullens and Broc Rutter.

With Mullens, grabbed after the 2017 NFL Draft, the Niners received a high-quality backup who showed his merits the following year after the starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, suffered a season-ending ACL tear and his initial replacement, C.J. Beathard, failed to make any headway in his own second season.

Serviceable backups are vital for teams eyeing playoff spots. Even though Jimmy G stayed healthy for all of 2019, ensuring someone capable of navigating an offense through any elongated injury means Mullens’ placement on the 53-man roster this upcoming season is all but guaranteed. If San Francisco wanted to trade Mullens and capitalize on his relatively high stock value, it would have done so by now.

Yet Mullens’ uncertain future lends credence to the idea Rutter, a small-school prospect out of North Central College in Illinois, could be the next UDFA the 49ers develop into a solid backup.

Niner Noise breaks down what Rutter’s future could hold in our annual “Who Is?” series.

Why Broc Rutter improves with 49ers in 2020

One of the traits Rutter showed during his collegiate days was the ability to be a volume passer. True, the competition levels at a Division III school are nothing like what he could have encountered at higher levels, but there are merits to the increased action.

Rutter’s profile on highlights some of the records and accolades he produced at the college level en route to a D-III national championship:

"Started 51 games in four years (2016-19) at North Central, where he threw for 14,265 yds. and 135 TDs. In 2019, earned Associated Press First-Team All-America and First-Team All-CCIW honors and was the recipient of the CCIW Art Keller Offensive Player of the Year Award. Started all 15 games and completed 309 of 435 atts. (71.0 pct.) for a single season school-record 4,591 passing yds. and 56 passing TDs. His passing yds. and passing TDs also ranked 2nd in Division III football."

This provides an advantage over someone like Beathard, whose Iowa offenses were primarily run first and limited Beathard’s chances to read defenses and go through the natural development associated with frequent reps.

Even if the competition is less fierce, Rutter’s higher levels of action should do him some good in training camp this year.

Why Broc Rutter regresses with 49ers in 2020

It’s one thing to throw a lot. It’s another to do so against top-tier pass-rushers and cover defenders. Granted, Rutter’s weapons at his disposal will be at the upper echelons, too, yet it’s entirely feasible he’s simply overwhelmed by the sheer speed and tenacity of the game at such a high level.

From a simpler standpoint, it’s important to evaluate why Rutter wasn’t on too many teams’ radars following the 2020 NFL Draft, and it’s crucial to understand hidden-gem UDFAs are exceptionally rare.

As such, Rutter could be little more than a project who flames out early in his pro career.

Projected role with 49ers in coming years

The question isn’t whether or not Rutter will make the 53-man roster in 2020 (he won’t), rather what happens between him and Mullens in 2021 and beyond.

Mullens is going to be a restricted free agent next offseason. And while it’s anyone’s guess what the Niners’ plans for him are, it wouldn’t be overly shocking if another team is willing to grab the quarterback in exchange for a consolation draft pick, perhaps in Round 2, in return. That’s the simple version of how restricted free agency works.

San Francisco could easily be happy netting a day-three pick in return for Mullens’ services, capitalizing on his impressive 2018 efforts and the fact he is a well-developed UDFA. But that would also prompt the idea Rutter would need to rise up as the team’s eventual backup to Garoppolo down the road, perhaps as early as 2021.

Especially with Beathard entering a contract year this season, too.

The hope here would be, of course, Rutter would flash enough prowess and poise over his rookie season, all but guaranteed on the practice squad, to convince head coach Kyle Shanahan he’s worth the continued development.

Next. Predicting 5 surprises for 49ers' 53-man roster in Week 1. dark

And if Mullens departs, Rutter could easily wind up being QB No. 2 on the team’s roster in the not-so-distant future.