Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Coming into the 2018 season, expectations for the 49ers’ quarterback position were through the roof. Since Week 3, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens have had the unenviable task of replacing Italian Clark Kent himself, Jimmy Garoppolo. With four games left on the schedule, who should start the rest of the season?
Beathard and Mullens come with vastly different pedigrees. Beathard was one of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s handpicked players. Shanahan convinced general manager John Lynch to trade up in the 2017 third round to select the Iowa product. Beathard began last season as the backup before eventually supplanting starter Brian Hoyer. Once Garoppolo had a grasp of the playbook, he was again relegated to his reserve role. Mullens, on the other hand, went undrafted after breaking many of Brett Favre’s records at Southern Mississippi University. He spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad and only saw action in the preseason. In Week 4 of this year, he was promoted to the active roster.
Following Garoppolo’s injury, Beathard was the next man up. He started five games but could not muster a win. While completing 60% of passes, Beathard threw for 1,252 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Despite displaying incredible toughness, his lack of pocket awareness had the offense grinding to a halt. Beathard would repeatedly take sacks in key situations and could not keep the ball moving down the field. In Week 9 against the Cardinals, Beathard hurt his wrist and was unable to make the quick turnaround to face the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football. Enter Nick Mullens.
Kyle Shanahan did not name Mullens the starter for the Raiders game until the day before kickoff. Mullens entered as an unknown quantity. His career highlight was leading a come-from-behind victory against the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 preseason. Under the bright lights of primetime, Mullens torched the lackluster Raiders’ defense for 262 yards and a trio of touchdowns in a 34-3 lambasting. Since then, he has come back down to earth and has not been able to lead the team to another victory. Mullens’ 64% completion percentage has yielded 1,147 yards, 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The offense has been noticeably more efficient under his command but has not been without its struggles.
Kyle Shanahan’s decision of who remains under center should focus on who he believes has a more important role with the team beyond just this season. Beathard has the advantage of being under team control for an extra year compared to Mullens. However, Shanahan has admitted a draft mistake before when he cut second year running back Joe Williams before he ever played a regular season snap.
A look at the raw stats and the eye test should make the choice clear: Nick Mullens has earned the right to finish out the last four games as the team’s starting quarterback. He has developed a great rapport with rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis and tight end George Kittle. His ability to lead the offense down the field while not relying entirely on the run game will be important to the young WR corps’ growth and development going into the offseason.
Between C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens, Mullens is the 49ers best option moving forward.
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