I called a former coach to get the scoop on Nick Mullens. To find out what it is he does so well.
Mullens is a phenomenon. He’s one of the most successful young quarterbacks currently in the NFL. His passer rating through five career starts is 93.5, higher than Baker Mayfield’s 93.4 passer rating, and Mayfield was the No. 1 draft pick this year. Mullens was an undrafted free agent in 2017.
Mullens grew up in Hoover, Alabama, 60 miles west of Tuscaloosa, the home of college football’s top program, the University of Alabama. It did not offer Mullens a scholarship, even though in 2012 he won the Alabama high school football Player of the Year Award. The Crimson Tide snubbed Mullens, as did every other school from a Power 5 conference, because he’s small for a quarterback — only 6-foot-1 — and doesn’t have a strong arm.
Mullens went to Southern Mississippi, a modest program, and passed for 11,994 yards and 87 touchdowns in four seasons. Monster numbers.
Still, the NFL wasn’t impressed. The 49ers didn’t even have Mullens on their draft board. Quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello had to convince the 49ers to sign Mullens to the practice squad, where he spent most of 2017 playing free safety for the scout team during practices.
Now, Mullens is the 49ers’ starting quarterback while Jimmy Garoppolo recovers from a torn ACL. So far, Mullens has thrown for 1,479 yards — fifth most by a quarterback during his first five starts since the NFL-AFL merger in 1966.
How did everybody miss on Mullens? What makes him good?
This is what the former NFL coach said. Here’s our entire conversation.
COACH: “Mullens’ strongest asset is his composure. He doesn’t have those wide, saucer eyes you see from other young quarterbacks who have more experience than Mullens. You see some of those guys throw three, four picks in a game and look totally overwhelmed. Not Mullens.”
GRANT: “He seems extremely prepared.”
COACH: “He has prepared himself — that’s the key. He has rehearsed game plans by himself in empty stadiums. As he walks up and down the field, he makes the play calls, makes all the adjustments mentally, goes through his progressions as he drops and sets his feet.”
GRANT: “And as a result, he plays like a veteran. Makes checks at the line of scrimmage and goes through pass progressions quickly.”
COACH: “Right. He’s ahead of some other young quarterbacks because of what he has done on his own, outside the regular practice field and regular practice hours.”
GRANT: “What do you notice about his physical skills?”
COACH: “He has pocket awareness. I’d like to see him load his back leg and cock his hips as he sets his feet and prepares to throw. But, that’s where a guy like Tom House can help. House is the former Atlanta Braves pitcher who runs a quarterback school in Los Angeles during the offseason. He works with Tom Brady and Drew Brees. They work on the finer points of pre-passing preparation.”
GRANT: “You’re saying Mullens needs more arm strength, but can develop it with better mechanics.”
COACH: “Correct. He doesn’t bring his lower body with him all the way. That’s something House can fix. And Mullens is the kind of guy who would seek out House. Mullens is a student of the game. He’s not out there playing like it’s recess. He’s not just winging it. He takes a much more studious approach. He’s invested in the intangibles beyond the normal scope of being a quarterback. That’s why he will surpass more physically gifted players.”