When Nick Mullens made his regular-season NFL debut back in 2018, he did it in high fashion. Coming out like gangbusters for the San Francisco 49ers, the undrafted free agent quarterback from Southern Miss threw three touchdowns and zero picks while completing 72 percent of his passes in a convincing 34-3 victory — against the then-Oakland Raiders.
Coming seemingly out of nowhere and surgically picking apart Paul Guenther’s defense piece by piece, Mullens was a hot ticket. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder epitomized the underdog and his coming out party against the Silver & Black was much ballyhooed. However, 18 games and three season later, Mullens would sport a 5-11 record as the 49ers starting quarterback and an 0-1 mark this past year as the emergency starter for the Cleveland Browns.
That start and loss? To the Las Vegas Raiders.
The now 27-year-old did the best he could with Cleveland’s ragamuffin roster (COVID-19 protocol decimated the Browns for the game) finishing 20 of 30 (66.67 percent) for 147 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He avoided getting sacked in a game the Raiders won 16-14. That was a far cry from the 16 of 22 for 262 yards and three touchdown performance he had leading the 49ers in 2018 against the Raiders.
Now, instead of battling against the Raiders, Mullens will sport the Silver & Black. And with the team’s backup role to starter Derek Carr influx, the former So. Miss Golden Eagles signal caller has a solid chance to be QB2 in Vegas.
New #Raiders backup QB Nick Mullens has averaged 267.8 yards passing in his 17 career starts. Only 10 players since the merger have started that many games and averaged more yards passing per game.— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) April 4, 2022
The only other quarterback on the Raiders roster currently behind Carr is Garrett Gilbert. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound former sixth round pick (2014, by the Rams) hasn’t seen as much action as Mullens over the course of five NFL seasons. The Southern Methodist product is 0-2 in his starts with his most recent action coming in a 27-17 loss when he helmed the Washington Football Team’s offense against the Philadelphia Eagles. Gilbert went 20 of 31 (64.52 percent) for 194 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked twice and fumbled once.
Considering the different in in-game experience and production, one could not only easily surmise but defend the notion Mullens would have the leg-up in a competition with Gilbert — depsite the latter being familiar with new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels after spending time with the New England Patriots.
Mullens exhibits the moxie and scrappiness that’s both quintessential for a backup quarterback and endearing to a coaching staff. He’s also shown enough in his 17 starts — record be damned — to be entrusted with taking snaps if a starter goes down. Mullens would also be surrounded by a quality cast around him with the weaponry available, despite an offensive line still developing into a quality group. And he has a sound play designer and play caller in McDaniels.
Thus, Mullens would bring plenty of fight and guts if he were pressed into action. That’s a bit of a rarity for the Raiders as Carr is a relative iron man. He did miss substantial snaps when he injured himself scrambling against the Los Angeles Chargers two seasons ago but he’s missed only two starts and games out of the 129 contests in his career.
Perhaps the Raiders aren’t even done adding to the quarterback room. Based on McDaniels media session at the NFL owners meeting, Las Vegas is keeping its options open.
“We’ve had some (in New England) that have been rookies and some that have not,” McDaniels said about quarterbacks. “At the end of the day, what we want to do is probably get into a cycle where we find people that we bring in and can train and develop. That’s a great thing for a quarterback, to have time in a system, continued development year after year; not bring them in for one year and they sit there and know we gotta do it again. That’s a pain in the butt sometimes.
“At this point, with where we’re at, we’re going to have to do something. There are a lot of things we have to look at going forward and what’s the best thing for us — short-term window or long-term window of developing a guy. I always think that’s best for a quarterback’s overall development — that he’s in the same system, coached by the same coaches, hears the same terminology and then in Year 2 and Year 3 he is the best version of himself that he could be. As opposed to a guy that is here for eight months. But we’ll see how the rest of this year unfolds. We’re on the hunt.”
Both Mullens and Gilbert were signed to one-year pacts — much like several free agents the Raiders inked this offseason. While either/or could be re-upped to another deal after this season — or not even make the roster at all — perhaps investing a late-round pick on a quarterback later this month in the NFL Draft may be in play?