In the history of the NFL, only one undrafted quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl.
Becoming a starting quarterback of an NFL franchise as an undrafted free agent is a feat in and of itself, but Kurt Warner is the anomaly. After four seasons in the Arena Football League, Warner signed with the St. Louis Rams.
In 2000, Warner’s third season in the NFL, he led his team to the winner’s podium of Super Bowl XXXIV while also being named the MVP of the game.
Nearly twenty years later, only two starting quarterbacks for Week 14 went undrafted — 49ers QB Nick Mullens and New Orleans Saints signal-caller Taysom Hill.
Of the remaining 30 starting quarterbacks, 22 were drafted in the first round and seven were drafted in rounds 2-4. Tom Brady, an aberration like Warner, famously was not selected until the sixth round.
With the odds stacked against a UDFA quarterback’s success, are the expectations for Nick Mullens too high?
There is no question that Mullens is loved by his teammates and coaching staff. He is diligent, has a great work ethic and has made his share of big plays for the 49ers.
Mullens’ play, however, has lacked consistency. In his eight appearances this season, he has thrown as many touchdowns (9) as interceptions. The former Southern Miss quarterback’s record as a starter with the 49ers is 5-9 with 22 career touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Kyle Shanahan has been pleased by Mullens’ grit through the adversity of the season, as well as his incredibly positive attitude. The head coach's emphasis for the quarterback in preparation for Washington is simple.
"Almost the same stuff I've been emphasizing every week with him,” Shanahan said. “Do what you're supposed to do in terms of, what play's called, you read the coverage, you go to the right person.
“Don't try to make stuff up, be aggressive, but do it within the play. I thought Nick did a real good job of that last week. He made the right plays. I know he'd love to have that pick back on third-and-goal on the five. He could have done that better.”
Mullens might only have a 3-5 record (six starts) under center this season, but the circumstances under which he has played have been beyond challenging. The 49ers have been decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball.
The 49ers' top three offensive playmakers have missed half of the team’s games. George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Raheem Mostert have all sat out of six contests. Each of them also have only been on the field with Mullens under center three times.
The offensive line also has had its share of injuries. Weston Richburg has spent the entire season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Ben Garland has been on injured reserve since Week 7. Mullens has been sacked 13 times in his eight appearances.
The fact that the 49ers' postseason hopes still are alive at all could be considered nothing short of a miracle.
Winning as the starting quarterback for this 49ers team might be too much to expect for anyone, even a first-round pick.