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Getting perspective on 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens

Levin T. Black
Dec 5, 2018 at 6:10 PM


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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens is four starts into his career. It's not the biggest sample size but it is one-quarter of a NFL season. That's long enough to gain some perspective on the quality of a quarterback's play.

Last week, Mullens put up some big numbers even if they are inflated a bit due to a lopsided score. In the 43-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Mullens passed for 414 yards. That is 11th most all-time in team history. Not since Tim Rattay compiled 417 yards in 2004 has a 49ers quarterback passed for more.

As I mentioned, some may knock it because of the lopsided score. I get that. Others may bring up the fact the team scored just 16 points despite all the yards. I'd like to bring up a few things to the detractors.

Of the the 10 games besting Mullens' 414 yards, three came in games the 49ers also lost. In one of those games, the 49ers scored just six points. Joe Montana was the quarterback in that 1986 game. He passed for what was, at that time, a team record 441 yards. The 49ers lost 14-6 thanks in large part to Montana's three interceptions.

Let's just call it what it was. Mullens had a good game that could have been great but should still be taken as a positive sign. Yes, his lone interception was egregious. After all, an interception on the opponent's goal line that is returned for a touchdown is as bad as it gets. Still, he had two touchdowns and completed 62.5 percent of his passes while facing constant pressure in one of the least hospitable road environments.

Mullens does a lot of things well. He reads the defense effectively and quickly, delivers a very accurate, catchable ball and doesn't hesitate in the face of pressure.

In his four starts, he has done well with obvious deficiencies I'll touch on later. He has seven touchdowns to five interceptions with a completion percentage of 64.5. He's averaging 286.75 yards per game and sports a 91.5 traditional quarterback rating and 60.4 QBR. The yards per game, completion percentage and ratings all lead the team this season.

Expanding his numbers out to a full 16 game season gives him 4,588 yards with 28 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Pretty darn good for an undrafted quarterback making his first four career starts. Keep in mind, he's also been without the team's top wide receivers a majority of the time.

He's also excelled in one area that the team has struggled in both this season and last. Inside the red zone, Mullens is 14 of 20 with five touchdowns with one interception. This is a welcome sight for fans who have been frustrated by the team's tendency to stall out so close to the end zone.

Yes, he has his struggles and limitations. His arm is limited. He lacks a fastball. This limits some of the routes he can throw. When he has the time to step into throws he is capable of throwing a good deep ball. Not much can be done to increase his arm strength. It is what it is.

The thing Mullens struggles most with is pocket presence. He's shown little ability to side-step a pass rush and no ability to escape altogether. He has 10 rushes for negative-2 yards through four games. His longest rush is 2 yards.

It's been noted by fans and analysts that he seems to zero in on his progressions. He never takes his eyes off his receivers. This, combined with little natural feel for when the pocket is collapsing, leaves a lot to be desired. How often do quarterbacks scramble for first downs in today's spread the defense out game? There have been times when Mullens had a lane to escape downfield into but failed to see it.

Make no mistake, the overall product is solidly positive. He has been everything even the most optimistic fans could have realistically hoped for when the 49ers were forced to turn to him. He seems to already be a very capable backup. With youth and inexperience on his side, he could continue to improve. That would make him either a top notch backup for years to come for the 49ers or a potential starter for another team to target in a trade.

Not a bad development for a team lacking positive ones.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • Bill Bruneau
    I remember last year players we saying that Mullins was shredding the defense while on the practice squad. Do not under any circumstances trade this dude, he will be great one day
    Dec 5, 2018 at 6:42 PM
    1


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