Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


Reason for optimism ahead of possible Nick Mullens debut

Nov 1, 2018 at 11:59 AM


Preseason is often boring and rarely important, but it can throw up some fun, if completely meaningless, finishes. The 49ers were treated to such not so tense finales as 'Mullens magic' took hold in the exhibition season.

It was a more innocent time, with Mullens' comeback against the Dallas Cowboys and almost comebacks against the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers amusing precursors to what was expected to be an intriguing first full season with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. It was fun and completely irrelevant and if fans sticking through each game until the end wasn't bonkers, this British writer staying up until 6am to do so certainly was.

Expect now we know it wasn't. As it turns out, the time watching Mullens work his magic was time well spent. In a season derailed by injuries in which Garoppolo lasted only three games before his ACL tore, Mullens could well get his regular-season shot when the Niners host the Oakland Raiders on Thursday due to a wrist injury to Garoppolo backup C.J. Beathard.

Those games dominated by Mullens magic are now extremely relevant and provide the most recent window into what to expect should Beathard be ruled out.


And, though they were only games against backups, there were plenty of positive things to glean from Mullens' performances. He completed 31 of his 43 passes for 396 yards, a passing touchdown and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Mullens did turn the ball over five times, with three interceptions and two fumbles lost, but the tape from the exhibition season suggests at a player who should cope well with the pressure of his first NFL start.

Mullens evidently has the arm to excel. He can put significant zip on his passes and is a decisive thrower of the football. Niners fans would likely be refreshed by a quarterback who does not hesitate, having seen Beathard ponder through his progressions in most of five winless starts this season. Unafraid to push the ball downfield, Mullens had some success going deep in preseason, including on this superb strike down the left sideline to Aldrick Robinson.


Yet what may encourage 49ers fans the most about the prospect of him starting is how he played with pressure in his face. In recent weeks Beathard has completely crumbled against the pass rush. By contrast, Mullens was largely undaunted by pressure in preseason, completing throws from a muddied pocket and with free rushers bearing down on him, as he did on his game-winning touchdown to Richie James against the Cowboys.


When he had to escape the pocket, Mullens demonstrated the mobility to do so and was able to make some throws on the run. The one huge obvious caveat to all of this, however, is that these positive plays came in non-competitive games, often with clearly defined reads and against players no longer on NFL rosters. Beathard has this season excelled in close games with the Chargers and Green Bay Packers, environments in which flaws are magnified. Unsurprisingly for an undrafted free agent, Mullens' preseason laid bare multiple flaws.

While he generally did an impressive job of working through his progressions, the two interceptions that Mullens was at fault for came as a result of him failing to look off defenders. He also often struggled to deliver the ball with anticipation, forcing receivers to adjust to his throws and had some issues sensing pressure from the backside.

In regular-season games accuracy issues are far more likely to be punished than in the preseason, the good news for Mullens, though, is that he is playing for a coach in Kyle Shanahan who schemes receivers open and, should he line up against the Raiders, will be facing a terrible defense that figures to be easily exploited by that attack. To boot, he will be supported by a running game that is second only to the Los Angeles Rams in yards per game.

Shifting to your third-string quarterback on a short week is never an ideal situation. However, even before news of his injury emerged, fans were growing weary of Beathard and the lack of improvement he has displayed in his second season. Mullens has a skill set that should enable him to move the ball and is being put in a situation and a matchup conducive to him succeeding. Beathard could well thrive against the Raiders porous defense but given his history it is just as possible that the former third-round pick produces another maddening display. In a game with little riding on it, the smarter choice may be to go with a healthy Mullens and find out if his magic can translate to the regular season.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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