C.J. Beathard. What the hell happened? It’s no secret I was impressed with Beathard during his rookie campaign, with some aware throws and willingness to take hits. It turns out, Beathard was far too willing to take hits. The 49ers gave up ridiculous numbers of sacks when Beathard was behind the line, a number that went down when Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in, and went back up after Garoppolo handed the reigns back.
Beathard was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Some wondered if he would be the quarterback of the future, analysts called him a career backup. It didn’t take long until it was clear Beathard may be the latter. His rookie season could be forgivable, but his second season, one where he came in for an injured Garoppolo, offered less progress than one would have hoped. Nick Mullens, an undrafted free agent and practice squad quarterback, eventually won Beathard’s job.
All the negativity aside, Beathard did improve his accuracy, something I said he would need to get on if he had a chance. In 2017, he had a 54.9 completion percentage. In 2018, a more respectable 60.4. That’s still not anything lighting the world on fire, but it’s definite improvement. In fact, if you look at his numbers on Pro Football Reference, you’d see improvement across the board and that he started the same amount of games both years. There’s one problem with those numbers: Beathard threw the ball much, much less in 2018 (169 attempts) than he did in 2017 (224 attempts).
Improvement or not, Beathard has Mullens battling with him for the backup spot. That also does not help him. This is a make-it or break-it camp for Beathard.
Experience: Third season
Is going into the third year of his four-year rookie deal. Per Over the Cap, he has a base salary of $785,786, and a prorated signing bonus of $176,572 which accounts for a cap hit of $962,358. If cut before June first, the 49ers will have $353,144 in dead money, but a cap savings of 609, 214.
How he might improve in 2019
Being decisive is one thing. Beathard’s accuracy has improved, but he still stood with the ball far too long. He has one less sack but far less pass attempts as well. He needs to trust his receivers, get rid of the ball and move on rather than clutch it waiting for the ultimate moment. He could stand to make a few more completions with the deep ball. His 2018 got by with dump-offs and short passes, but when he was depended on to make a deeper or more precise throw, it looked like the most difficult thing to attempt. He did make some beautiful plays (that deep ball to Marquise Goodwin against the Green Bay Packers comes to mind) but there just needs to be more of it.
How he might regress in 2019
Beathard may be what he is at this point. If he attempts to make more difficult throws, his completion percentage could suffer, his interception totals could rise. Given all the hits he’s been taken, he might also begin to have mobility issues and getting the phantom pressure surrounding him. If you want to see what I mean, go watch tape of Alex Smith in 2008/2009. Smith started throwing ducks and making some strange decisions in the pocket due to all the hits he was taking. This is a product of bad coaching, and something I think Shanahan can prevent, but one has to wonder how this affects Beathard between the ears and his mobility.
Speaking of his head, the coaching staff has moved on from Beathard twice in as many years. An indication they don’t think he can get the job done. That can affect his play and confidence knowing that he’s been benched over and over again. I’ve suggested after his second benching, the 49ers may want to move on for this reason. Damage could already have been done.
Odds of making the roster
When Nick Mullens stepped in for the remainder of the 2018 season, the 49ers were still bad, but something felt more right with Mullens behind center despite the team stinking. When Beathard stepped in, it was always off in some way, shape, or form. It was like a car driving with the emergency brake fully engaged and screeching on the highway. Sure Mullens crashed and burned the same car, but at least it appeared a smoother ride in between bumps. Beathard will compete with Nick Mullens for a roster spot, but given that the 49ers have moved on twice, and Mullens has been quite impressive despite a few annoyances, this may be Mullens’ job to lose. Aside from his interception totals, Nick Mullens’ numbers across the board are much, much better than Beathard’s. Though skewed a bit thanks to the Oakland Raiders game, the rise of George Kittle and other adjustments, on paper, Mullens appears to be the better quarterback.
There’s little reason for the 49ers to carry three quarterbacks, especially when they will sacrifice additional roster spots for that group of wide receivers. It doesn’t help that Beathard isn’t eligible for the practice squad. Unless he’s able to show immense improvement, his time in San Francisco may be coming to an end.