In the NFL, nothing can derail a season faster than losing your starting quarterback. The San Francisco 49ers found that out are hard way in 2018, as things went south in a hurry after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an ACL tear in Week 3.
The Niners will take it slowly with Garoppolo this offseason as he works his way back, which puts C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens front and center as they battle for the all important backup spot. Head coach Kyle Shananan has said the two are on equal footing to begin the competition, but if past performance means anything, this could be a lopsided battle.
With Beathard behind center, the 49ers have struggled to do two things: Hold onto the football and score points. In the 10 games Beathard’s been the starting quarterback, San Francisco has turned the ball over 22 times. While not all his fault, Beathard has done more than his share of contributing to the issues as he’s committed 17 turnovers himself (12 interceptions and five fumbles lost). Not coincidentally, the team’s scored one touchdown or less in six games and scored 18 points or less on seven occasions in those 10 contests. When it was all said and done, the 49ers have averaged about 17 points per game with Beathard.
On the flip side, the results were better with Mullens in each of those departments. Mullens did throw 10 interceptions in his eight starts, but that number can be a little misleading. Mullens actually only threw eight interceptable passes on his 274 attempts. That amounts to a 2.9 percent interceptable pass rate, which was good for sixth best in the league (to be fair, Beathard also had some hard luck interceptions along the way). The Niners committed a total of 14 turnovers with Mullens in his eight games, the same amount the team had with Beathard in his five 2018 starts. As far as points scored, San Francisco averaged 21 per game with Mullens and broke 20 points five times in eight tries.
Another area Mullens excels in is getting rid of the football. His quick release and decision making is ideal for Shanahan’s offense, while Beathard has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. Mullens, by far, had the lowest sack percentage of any 49ers quarterback last season with 5.8 percent. Beathard was at 9.6 percent and Jimmy Garoppolo was at 12.7 percent. Mullens was taken down 17 times on 291 drop backs while Beathard was sacked 18 times on 187 in 2018 and 37 times on 430 for his career.
Mullens has also proved to be the more accurate passer, completing 64.2 percent of this throws, while Beathard has struggled with a career percentage of 57.3. As far as getting the most out of their throws, Mullens finished fifth in the NFL with a whopping 8.31 yards per attempt. Beathard was almost a full yard below that last year at 7.4 and carries a career average of 6.4.
While the stats obviously support Mullens, so does the most important factor of all: Wins. Mullens won three of his eight starts after taking over a team that was 1-7 and had lost six straight. The team was 3-2 at home with Mullens, and the two losses were by a total of nine points. Beathard on the other hand is 1-9 as a starter. Looking deeper, Shanahan is 10-22 as the 49ers head coach. He’s 9-7 when Garoppolo or Mullens starts, and 1-15 when Beathard or Brian Hoyer have.
While it’s fair to say that Shanahan should give both Mullens and Beathard every opportunity to compete this offseason, it’s hard to imagine Mullens won’t have a leg up. If disaster strikes again, he’s already proven to the best option.