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.
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?