There is one silver lining from the San Francisco injury-filled win over the New York Jets. Head coach Kyle Shanahan says quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s ankle injury isn’t bad as first thought, and that he might able to start against the New York Giants on Sunday.
If Garoppolo can’t go, Nick Mullens will take his place. The 25-year-old played the second half of the game against New York and went 8-for-11 for 71 yards and a pick.
Mullens didn’t have to be spectacular considering the Niners were up 21-3 when he came in, and the fact that the Jets are a terrible football team. The last time Mullens played meaningful snaps was during the 2018 season. Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3, and Shanahan went with C.J. Beathard for a stretch before turning to Mullens for the final eight contests.
Mullens completed 64.2 of his passes in 2018 for 2,227 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He was tied for third among NFL quarterbacks at 12.9 yards per completion and had a bad throw percentage of 13.2, fifth-lowest in the league. Mullens was pressured a lot when dropping back to pass, with a rate of 30.8%, fourth-highest in the NFL.
Looking at his passing charts from 2018, you can see that Mullens can work the ball around the field, something Beathard struggles with. Mullens’ yards per completion was among the best in the league partly due to his ability to hit receivers on throws that traveled at least 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He went 17-for-33 on those passes and threw for three touchdowns.
The good news is that just like their Big Apple counterparts, the Giants are expected to finish towards the bottom of the standings. Even after all of the injuries, this year’s 49ers team is stronger than it was when Mullens was starting two years ago, so relying on him to lead the team to a victory this week isn’t too much of an ask, something that can’t be said about Beathard.
Given the concerns about the turf at MetLife Stadium after what we witnessed last week, it might be in San Francisco’s best interest to rest Garoppolo, even if he gets the clearance to play.
NFL.com ranked Mullens as the eighth-best backup QB in the league before the season. Pro Football Focus is higher on Mullens, ranking him at No. 6 among backups, and gives him a 61.2% chance at being a top-16 QB in the league.
Protecting Garoppolo is imperative if the 49ers want to make it to the postseason. If that means starting Mullens against the G-Men, then the squad is in capable hands, and still should beat an inferior team, especially without stud running back Saquon Barkley.