The Curious Case of Nick Mullens

In five years, 49ers fans will struggle to remember who Nick Mullens is.
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"The Bay Area will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you, @49ers #FTTB"

Nick Mullens posted the above on his Instagram before starting a new journey with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. Whether 49ers fans have a mutual feeling toward Mullens is the question. 

In another few years, fans will struggle to remember his name. Does he deserve better?

Nicholas Clayton Mullens has some weird stats. Playing for the University of Southern Mississippi, he surpassed Brett Favre's single-season record for passing yardage (4,476) and touchdown passes (38). Mullens' record as a starter for the 49ers is 5 - 11. However, in his first 13 NFL starts, he was behind only Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck in passing yards. All these mixed stats make it challenging to make sense of Mullens' career.

To begin with, Mullens should not have been the No. 2 in the 49ers quarterback room. Instead, Mullens spent four years with the team, which indicates flawed, miscalculated decision-making by Kyle Shanahan and co. By 2020, the 49ers should have had a better quarterback room where the backup wasn't an undrafted free agent.

The 49ers think tank has made remarkably similar bad decisions. Remember Brian Allen, the man who made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like an MVP?

The situation went from bad to worse for Mullens in 2020 for multiple reasons. First, he had to start on a team that hyped itself up for a "Revenge Tour." The weight of the high expectations highlighted every mishap. Second, the offensive line without the leadership of Joe Staley was not the same as in 2019. Above all, vital offensive weapons were not at his disposal during the year.

This article is not an attempt to prove Mullens is a victim of the situation. On the contrary, he had the opportunity to rise and shine. Nobody expected Mullens to repeat the same performance against Giants every week. However, if Mullens did not turn over the ball at the worst moment possible, a playoff birth was within reach.

Eventually, Mullens showed he is not a starting-caliber quarterback. Instead, Mullens looked like a deer in the headlights.

There is another aspect that failed Mullens.

His mental game was fragile. Mullens is as tough as any football player can be. Almost play after play, he got a physical thrashing. But Mullens got up, shook off the hit, and was ready to take the next snap. Mullens had a big heart. 

Why did his mental game betray him?

If you pay attention closely, you would see how much pressure Mullens put himself under during the game. Mullens needed every play to go his way. One single mistake would snowball into a giant pile of errors. Against Giants, he was flawless. But when Mullens overthrew Kyle Juszczyk by a country mile in the first 49ers drive on a Sunday Night Football game against the Eagles, things went from bad to worse.

Watch the tape closely on games Mullens played. Concentrate on the body language and facial expressions after an unsuccessful play. It reveals the complete story crystal clear. Mullens is unable to shake off a mental drubbing. Yet, no matter how hard the physical hammering is, Mullens arrived for the next play. 

Great players can forget the previous play. For example, after the Super Bowl in 2019, NFL films released a video of Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines. It was following a series that Mahomes got tackled hard. In the clip, you can watch Mahomes pumping his chest and transforming into gladiator mode, shouting, "I'm a BEAST down here... HIT ME." Excellent players do not allow other teams to get beneath their skin. Tom Brady did not back down during Super Bowl LV. 

Mullens fell into the opposite end of the spectrum. Incapable of getting in the face of the opposing player, Mullens would beat himself mentally down. Conquering the mental encounter is crucial. It completes a player. As a player with an inadequate skillset, Mullens' mental deficiency pushed him over the cliff. 

49ers fans were crying out for C. J. Beathard when Mullens was struggling. But taking a different knife to a gunfight does not reverse the outcome. So you cannot blame the 49ers fans craving to move on from Mullens. This offseason, 49ers fan prayers were answered. The team is ready to start a new era with a complete quarterback room for the first time under Shanahan. 

In his heart, the 49ers must mean a lot to Mullens. He took the criticism while placing his body on the line for the 49ers. He labored hard, even though the result wasn't the desired one.

As mentioned earlier, he has some weird stats. But they don't show brave of a heart Nicholas Clayton Mullens has.