How 49ers QB Nick Mullens flourished despite low Pro Football Focus stats


How 49ers QB Nick Mullens flourished despite low Pro Football Focus stats

Pro Football Focus released it’s QB Annual report, a deep dive on each quarterback in the league. While there is an inordinate amount of information to try to digest, it does offer insights into interesting aspects of QB Nick Mullens and the 49ers offense. 

While Mullens had an average quarterback rating of 90.8 over his eight games with numbers ranging from 62.1 to 151.9, there were a few things that stood out after looking at the PFF metrics. 

Although Mullens was accurate in short-yardage situations and in a clean pocket -- ranking 15th of 35 quarterbacks -- his passer rating dropped to 43.1 when he threw 20 or more yards down the field. The average rating for the league was 97.3. 

Mullens very rarely threw the ball deep downfield. He completed safe throws when he had a clean pocket, but his productivity dwindled when under pressure. It dropped even more when scrambling. 

While that is a logical regression, Mullens fell significantly below the NFL average of accuracy when under pressure. He averaged 20 percent accuracy on the run, while the league average was 50 percent.

Many of those measurements seem logical, but what is interesting is how Mullens' inaccuracy has been somewhat camouflaged by the abilities of his receivers, as well as the scheming of coach Kyle Shanahan. 

Mullens averaged a 64.23 percent completion rate over his eight games, which isn’t far away from Tom Brady’s completion average of 65.8 percent. But he often threw to open receivers. Mullens' accuracy to open receivers was ranked 25th of 35 quarterbacks.

Once a defender was within a step or two of the receiver, Mullens’ completion rate dropped to 27 percent -- or 34th of 35 -- and in tight coverage he ranked 30th, at only 17 percent. 

Despite these stats, Mullens’ overall counting numbers were very impressive in his first season as a starter. His 2,277 passing yards in his first eight career starts are the fourth-most by a quarterback since 1970 (behind Patrick Mahomes' 2,507, Andrew Luck's 2,404 and Cam Newton's 2,393). 

How did Mullens get those numbers when he struggled in so many categories?

The answer is two-fold, -- both a product of Shanahan's offensive scheme, and also the receivers making plays on less than perfect throws.

Mullens struggled in delivering accurate passes to his receivers, which happened 11.0 percent of the time (3.1 percent below the league average). 44.9 percent of Mullens' passes were thrown within the frame of the receiver, which was only 1.1 percent lower than the the median.

Mullens’ most inaccurate spot? Placing the ball at a high point above the receiver, as seen several times when he was targeting All-Pro tight end George Kittle. While still catchable, 9.5 percent were thrown over the head of receivers, and another 9.5 percent ended up behind them. 

[RELATED: Kittle 'one of the luckiest guys in NFL' to play for Shanahan]

Shanahan’s scheming also allowed Mullens to flourish. His offensive strategy against coverages helped receivers get open, which provided a solid target for his second year quarterback. 

What everyone has to look forward to now, is how Jimmy Garoppolo will use the scheme to his advantage as he returns to the field in the coming season.

If Shanahan can make Mullens a star, what is the ceiling for the 49ers franchise quarterback? 

49ers' Dee Ford talks about brotherhood he's developed with Nick Bosa


49ers' Dee Ford talks about brotherhood he's developed with Nick Bosa

Kansas City drafted Dee Ford No. 23 overall back in 2014 despite having two established veteran edge rushers on the roster. That could’ve added some awkwardness to the Chiefs position group, with a hand-picked newcomer as the heir apparent to an established, well compensated star.

Justin Houston and Tamba Hali didn’t let that happen. They welcomed Ford with open arms, welcoming him to the team while offering tips and tricks of the trade.

Ford always appreciated that generosity and chose to pay it forward after the 49ers drafted Nick Bosa at No. 2 overall. Ford beat Bosa to the 49ers by but a few car lengths, coming over in what was essentially a sign-and-trade, but still felt compelled to help the rookie out. Bosa was as appreciative of the veteran help as Ford was back in 2014, and the two formed a fast friendship.

“I feel like it was a manifestation of the brotherhood that Tamba and Justin provided for me in Kansas City,” Ford said Friday morning in a video conference with 49ers reporters. “I knew that I needed to do that for Nick as far as embracing him and communicating with him during games. I really feel like we simplified things together. That’s what Justin and Tamba did for me.

“It always felt like practice and we were just out there vibing, having a good time [during games], but we worked hard and we pushed each other. That’s only going to continue.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Ford played the entire 2019 season dealing with tendinitis in his knee and missed games downs the stretch with a hamstring strain, but the two were dynamic when on the field whether playing off opposite edges or next to each other.

That was clear in Ford’s return to action in the NFC divisional round, when Bosa and Ford harassed Minnesota from every angle. Bosa sang Ford’s praises after the win, saying how much he impacts games and makes others on the 49ers defensive line better.

“Just having his presence and his pass-rush ability, his knowledge and communication, he's a true vet,” Bosa said then. “It's nice to have him out there.”

[RELATED: 49ers' Dee Ford rehabbing from knee surgery after playing 'on blown tire']

A solid working relationship is all that’s required of NFL teammates, even those in close proximity. Ford and Bosa are developing a legitimate off-the-field friendship that will only serve to strengthen their on-field bond.

“You don’t have to connect on a personal level. Let’s get that right,” Ford said. “But, on a personal level, I really like Nick. We’re growing to love each other as individuals, and that draws you even closer. I’m looking forward to playing more with him. I was only on the field minimal time last year so I’m excited about what we’re going to do next year.”

49ers' Dee Ford rehabbing from knee surgery after playing 'on blown tire'

49ers' Dee Ford rehabbing from knee surgery after playing 'on blown tire'

Defensive end Dee Ford collected 6.5 sacks in 11 games during his first season with the 49ers.

And he did it while experiencing severe knee tendinitis that required offseason surgery.

Ford, speaking with reporters Friday morning in a video call, revealed he underwent surgery a "couple weeks" after the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure on Ford's left knee n Pensacola, Florida.

“It was a pretty extensive cleanup,” Ford said. “I feel great right now. I’ve been rehabbing here in Alabama. I feel great right now.”

Ford missed most of training camp last summer after undergoing a platelet-rich plasma injection. He returned for the start of the regular season but aggravated the condition in practices on an artificial surface in Youngstown, Ohio, leading up to the 49ers’ Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He was not able to finish that game due to his condition.

“We were spot on with the injury, as far as diagnosing it in training camp,” Ford said. “I had a severe case of tendinitis. Although it’s not an ACL tear, with my position, that’s a blown tire.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Ford missed significant time late in the season with a hamstring strain, a possible issue from compensation for his knee issues. He was not at 100 percent for the postseason but managed one sack in three playoff games.

“I’m able to actually explode off of this knee,” Ford said. “Thinking back on it, I can’t believe I played a whole season on it. And we knew at the end of the day what we had to do -- (it) had to be surgical. But I didn’t want to miss the season. We had too much going on. I didn’t want to miss that. It’s in the bag now. I’m confident in that.”

[RELATED49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries]

Although Ford was nowhere near top condition physically, he said other areas of his game developed to the point that he could still be a productive player. If everything comes together in 2020, Ford believes he could exceed his production of 2018, when he registered 13 sacks with the Chiefs. The 49ers acquired Ford in a trade last offseason for a second-round draft pick.

“Even though I had those hiccups going on, I felt a lot more confident, I felt a lot more powerful, I felt a lot more explosive,” Ford said. “This is crazy to say, going into Year 7, but it does slow down even more, which is scarier for me.

“I was able to see a lot more. I was a lot more confident. (I) just wasn’t able to stay out on the field. So alleviating that problem is definitely going to put me in an advantageous situation this year. I’m trying to rack up as many sacks and TFL’s (tackles for loss) as I can and help our team get back to the Super Bowl.”