Quarterback Nick Mullens ranked third all-time in passing yards through his first nine NFL starts.
After one bad game, Mullens now ranks No. 3 ... on the 49ers’ depth chart.
Coach Kyle Shanahan announced Friday that Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy and back as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. He also revealed C.J. Beathard has moved back into the role as the team’s No. 2.
That decision means Mullens has fallen down the depth chart and will not suit up for games. It is quite a tumble for a quarterback whose play prompted some to wonder if he eventually might usurp Garoppolo to become the permanent starter.
One week after throwing for 343 yards in the 49ers’ lopsided win over the New York Giants, Mullens had three costly turnovers in the 49ers’ 25-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
He threw an interception in the red zone to prevent the 49ers from scoring first-half points. Mullens' fourth-quarter fumble led to the Eagles’ go-ahead points, and his interception was returned for a touchdown and a 10-point deficit.
Beathard entered in place of Mullens and strung together a touchdown drive and got the 49ers in position for a final-play shot at the end zone that fell incomplete.
Beathard is back in the role he held at the beginnings of the 2017 and ’18 seasons. He started 10 games during his first two NFL seasons. But his play struggled while he endured physical punishment behind a shaky offensive line.
Mullens got his first start on a Thursday night game against the Raiders in 2018, and he continued to hold a spot on the depth chart ahead of Beathard until this week.
“C.J., I thought, did some real good things for us,” Shanahan said. “Played through a number of games injured. Couldn't go one night versus Oakland, and Nick came in and seized his opportunity and C.J. hasn't gotten a chance since then because of that.”
Shanahan might have thought the 2018 switch to Mullens was just temporary. But Mullens never gave the 49ers a reason to consider dropping him back to No. 3.
Mullens was the backup all of last season, but he never got into meaningful game action because Garoppolo avoided injuries and played at a high level.
Meanwhile, there was not a lot of differences in how Mullens and Beathard performed on the practice field.
“Regardless of what goes on in practice, when two guys are capable and they both are pretty close in different ways, it's kind of tough to earn that spot in practice and really tough if you don't have preseason games and rarely get in like they did last year,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan has been high on Beathard since evaluating him for the 2017 draft.
The 49ers moved up to select him at the end of the third round with the No. 104 selection. He was the sixth quarterback taken in that draft behind Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb.
Meanwhile, the 49ers signed Mullens as an undrafted rookie after his record-setting career at Southern Mississippi.
There has always been the thought that Shanahan believed Beathard’s arm strength and style allowed him a better opportunity to run the offense to his specifications. Shanahan generally has routes at every depth drawn into his plays. And if a deep shot is available, he expects his quarterbacks to pounce on opportunities for big plays.
Beathard looked shell-shocked in the middle of the 2018 season. He looked as if he had been beaten down. The passage of time could have been good for him.
He looked prepared on Sunday night when he entered the game. He threw with anticipation and confidence, and he did not shrink under the pressure.
The rest of the 49ers’ roster is in a much better situation that it was when Beathard was starting games in his first two seasons. So Beathard has a better chance to succeed if he finds himself back on the field.
The move to adjust the order of the team’s depth chart seems to signal the 49ers’ priorities in the offseason. Beathard is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, while Mullens is slated to be a restricted free agent.
“I think Nick understands the situation, understands the business,” Shanahan said. “It sounds dreadful, and the end of the world probably to a normal person and anyone who cares about Nick. But I try to put it in perspective with Nick.
“He didn't have his best game. C.J. has been there before. Jimmy has been there before. Nick just had a rough game, and I think he played better than it looked. It's never as bad as it seems, but that's kind of the life of a backup.”