SF 49ers: Can Brandon Aiyuk break record with C.J. Beathard at QB?
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk could break a franchise record this season, but he’ll have to do it with C.J. Beathard, not Nick Mullens at quarterback.
With the SF 49ers now officially out of the 2020 playoff picture, the focus for the remaining two games of the regular season will shift more on the individual efforts of players who’ll be long-term fixtures for the franchise.
One of those is the Niners’ second of two first-round NFL Draft picks, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who is in position to break a cherished franchise record over the next two weeks.
Aiyuk, who has recorded at least 100 yards or a touchdown in nine of San Francisco’s last 10 games, is a mere 195 yards away from breaking Hall of Famer Jerry Rice‘s record for most receiving yards by an SF 49ers rookie, one which Rice set back in 1985 with 927.
With 73 receiving yards in the Niners’ Week 15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Aiyuk will have to average just over 97.5 yards per game over San Francisco’s last two contests against the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.
But there’s a wrinkle in the mix now.
Over the last six-plus games, the quarterback throwing the ball to Aiyuk was Nick Mullens. And while Mullens wasn’t particularly successful engineering San Francisco’s offense with consistency, the bulk of Aiyuk’s big games this season have come from Mullens’ passes.
Yes, even those short jet-sweep passes where Aiyuk cuts in front of Mullens in what looks like a handoff.
Mullens is now out for the season with an elbow injury, meaning the No. 3 quarterback on the SF 49ers roster, C.J. Beathard, will likely get the start over the team’s final two games. While criticizing Mullens’ league-worst 3.7 interception percentage is a fair point, one should also note Beathard’s 3.0 interception percentage over his three-plus year career isn’t exactly much better.
Plus, Beathard owns a career 57.8 completion percentage. Mullens is at 64.5.
If there’s something working in Aiyuk’s favor in the wake of the injury switch, it’s Beathard having a much stronger arm. Mullens’ passes tend to take much longer to reach their intended target, which could explain why many an opposing defender has time to jump on a route and intercept it.
Beathard isn’t accurate. But he can hit deeper passes.
It might only take a handful of those for the rookie receiver to reach Rice’s mark.
Either way, it’s going to be a challenge. Beathard’s stronger arm is a crutch, but the lower completion abilities could end up cutting into Aiyuk’s dwindling chances to set a new franchise best.