49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will face a lot of questions, and much will be written and said about one competition in particular during training camp.
But if things go as the 49ers hope, the result of this training camp battle will have no impact on the season as the winner will not step on the field for a meaningful snap after the exhibition season.
Nick Mullens was more impressive than C.J. Beathard last season, but they will open training camp this week with an equal chance at winning the backup quarterback role.
The competition for the 49ers' backup quarterback job probably will not be settled until the final cuts before the start of the regular season. The organization must also determine whether the loser of the battle will remain on the team's 53-man roster or end up on the waiver wire.
Mullens had a historically impressive eight-start opening to his NFL career last season. But he opens camp on equal footing with Beathard for the right to serve as the 49ers' No. 2 quarterback behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo.
“I know both of them so well because we’ve been here two years with them and we’ve gotten a chance now to see both of them in practice and both of them in games,” Shanahan said.
Mullens piled up big passing yards after taking over for Beathard at the midseason point, averaging 284.6 yards passing per game. In fact, Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are the only players to throw for more yards in their first eight starts. The Southern Mississippi product compiled a respectable 90.9 passer rating while putting up big numbers after taking over for Beathard prior to the 49ers’ Week 9 game against the Raiders.
And Shanahan seems to be pleased with both players, based on what he witnessed during the nine-week offseason program.
They arrived at this point through different modes of transportation.
Beathard was a third-round draft pick in 2017. The 49ers signed Mullens immediately following that same draft as an undrafted rookie. Mullens was among the final cuts before the beginning of the ’17 and ’18 seasons. After he cleared waivers both years, Mullens was immediately signed back to the 49ers’ practice squad.
Beathard has made 10 NFL starts over his first two seasons in the league. He's proven his toughness, but he has to do a much better job of getting the ball out quicker and avoiding hits. Beathard took one sack for every 10.4 dropbacks. At the time Mullens replaced him in the Week 9 game against the Raiders, Beathard needed a break mentally and physically. In two seasons, Beathard has thrown 12 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
Mullens might not have all the physical attributes, but he knows the system as well as anyone and does not back down from a challenge. Statistically, Mullens was better last season. He averaged 8.3 yards per attempt while completing 64.2 percent of his pass attempts. Beathard averaged 7.4 yards per attempt and completed slightly above 60 percent of his passes.
The big question about Mullens is his ability to connect on the deep ball, which is a major component of Shanahan's offensive blueprint.