The San Francisco 49ers have completely overhauled the quarterback position this offseason. They signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in veteran free agency, traded up in the draft to select Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, and then signed Southern Miss’ Nick Mullens as an undrafted free agent.
We’ve heard plenty about the veterans and Beathard, but plenty of people are wondering who exactly Nick Mullens is. A UDFA is generally competing for a spot on the practice squad, but sometimes there are opportunities for a spot on the 53-man roster. In the case of Mullens, it is all but certain he will not be on the 53-man roster. Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley will top the depth chart, and C.J. Beathard will be the third string developmental prospect.
Mullens has experienced plenty of highs and lows over the past two seasons. In 2015, he completed 63.5 percent of his passes (331/521) for 4,476 yards, with 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was viewed as an intriguing prospect following the 2016 season, with Gil Brandt offering praise for him. He acknowledged having somewhat limited knowledge about the quarterback, but thought he could be drafted this year.
“I would say, with my limited knowledge, that he’s as good a player there is in this conference,” Brandt said. “In my estimation, he will be a draft choice. I like the way he throws the ball. I thought he threw the ball really well, and it looks like he’s a good athlete.”
“I hate to say he’s a second-round pick or a seventh-round pick,” he said. “Because I don’t think it’s fair. These kids read that stuff and they're disappointed if it doesn’t fall where they think it should or come to fruition.
“So let’s just say he’s a strong prospect.”
A year ago, the 2016 NFL draft saw Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch emerge from off the radar to get drafted in the first round. Following the draft, Pro Football Focus put together an article on three candidates to be the next Wentz or Lynch. They went 0-for-3, discussing Mullens, Gunner Kiel, and Cooper Rush.
In discussing Mullens, they talked about how the Southern Miss offense would rely on him more than ever having lost his two leading receivers. Michael Thomas (71 receptions, 1,391 yards, 14 TDs) was a 2016 sixth round pick of the then St. Louis Rams, while Casey Martin (80 receptions, 925 yards, 7 touchdowns) graduated and went to the CFL.
In 2016, Mullens completed 63.3 percent of his passes (243/384) for 3,272 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His general accuracy was there, but scouting reports point to a player with serious deficiencies in size and arm strength. He stands a shade under 6’1. Quarterbacks can emerge in spite of little height, but it is viewed as a red flag. Additionally, scouting reports discuss his lack of arm strength. He is able to hit on the shorter and intermediate throws, but there are questions about making the big-time NFL throws.
Pro Football Focus and NFL.com each offered up a scouting report on Mullens. PFF liked his ability to throw into zone windows, thinks he is a natural passer with a smooth, efficient release, and shows good poise in the pocket. They did not like his ability to get outside the pocket and make plays, his struggles throwing under pressure, and lack of arm speed as he threw further down the field.
NFL.com talked about similar qualities, and also liked his touch and toughness (had training staff push a bone back in during a Week 6 game, and he finished the game and the season). They too talked about his lack of NFL size and arm strength
Here is how they both summarized him.
NFL.com: Mullens is a productive college quarterback with good competitiveness and toughness, but lacking the minimum standards of size and arm strength. Mullens could make it into camp, but is unlikely to find a spot on a roster.
PFF: Mullens is a very solid and productive college player. His lack of size and arm strength are two major concerns in his transition to the NFL. For what he lacks in size in arm strength, he makes up for with his accuracy, pocket poise, and ability to work through progressions and see the game clearly. Although he comes from a spread wide open offense, Mullens can play the game – and worthy of either a late round selection or UFA with a chance to make a practice squad and develop.
I have a hunch Mullens might be a KSWOF candidate this August. I could see him looking sharp enough for stretches in the fourth quarter of preseason games that a modest bandwagon starts to develop. I see almost no way he ends up on the 49ers 53-man roster, but the practice squad is a real possibility.