Entitlement in the NFL is all too common.
Jobs are won and held onto, sometimes a few seasons too long, simply because of seniority or name value. Young players won’t see significant snaps because of philosophies on development – or maybe the relationship between player and coach is as strong as oak, and the two ride the highs and lows together without change being considered. It comes in many forms, but you’ll see around the league that despite who is starting, the veteran isn’t always the best man for the job.
The 49ers are an interesting team around the league to dissect when it comes to this specific trend. It’s because they’re in transition, a good portion of the roster is foreign to the staff and front office, they’re looking for results with a magnifying glass, and every single job is up for grabs. Veterans are going to get the first crack at it, of course, but it would be hard for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to ignore raw talent if it surfaces.
The 49ers expected battles to come of this at positions like running back, with Carlos Hyde and Joe Williams, and at tight end with Vance McDonald and George Kittle. We saw Ahmad Brooks lose his spot at SAM linebacker to Eli Harold. And undrafted free-agent Lorenzo Jerome also played quite well in Jimmie Ward’s absence.
But the next position that could have the spotlight shined on it is quarterback, believe it or not.
And it’s between nine-year veteran Brian Hoyer and Iowa rookie C.J. Beathard.
Beathard has been one of the NFL’s real bright spots at quarterback this preseason.
The 104th overall pick has been one of the best players at the position on a per-snap basis, outpacing three first-round rookies in Mitchell Trubisky (No. 2, Chicago), Patrick Mahomes (No. 10, Kansas City) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12, Houston) through the first two games, according to Justis Mosqueda of Setting the Edge.
He’s gone 21-of-35 for 370 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. And his interception came on a play that was essentially a fumble and not at all his fault. Beathard also engineered a fourth-quarter comeback, for what it’s worth. Despite the level of competition, it at the very least shows how he changed the tempo of the game.
In that time, the rookie also supplanted veteran Matt Barkley as the No. 2 quarterback.
And to be honest, he’s played well enough where Hoyer may need to start looking over his shoulder. Especially considering the long-time journeyman is 1 of 9 quarterbacks with negative passing efficiency this preseason, grouping him with Blake Bortles, Mark Sanchez, Mike Glennon, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg, Brandon Weeden, Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler.
Through his first two preseason games he went 9-of-15 for 92 yards and an interception. Hoyer also had a second turnover against the Broncos in the form an ugly fumble at the top of his throwing motion during an unpressured pass. It’s also notable that after a poor start that game, Shanahan kept Hoyer out there for a fourth series – most were anticipating Beathard a little sooner.
After the loss to Denver, Shanahan didn’t single anybody out, but cited a “continuous lack of discipline” as the reason for the lopsided preseason loss.
“Whenever you go out to a game like that that you want to win, you want to play well and you turn the ball over like that and you have the penalties that we did, I’m definitely going to be pissed off and I expect everyone in our building to be pissed off,” the 49ers head coach said.
Granted, it’s preseason, and in practice Hoyer has been terrific by all accounts. He followed up the struggles well, too, by completing 10 straight passes against the Vikings in Game 3, while finishing 12-of-17 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the best he’s looked, and it mirrored the practices he’s had in camp.
But if a hot and cold trend continues into the regular season, and the losses start piling up, the quarterback battle may be something to keep an eye on. The win-loss column is going to be the key factor and Hoyer is going to have to wade the waters early.
The 49ers’ eight-game stretch to begin the year is rough:
Week 1: Panthers
Week 2: @ Seattle
Week 3: Rams (Thursday, four days after Seahawks)
Week 4: @ Arizona
Week 5: @ Indianapolis
Week 6: @ Washington
Week 7: Cowboys
Week 8: @ Philadelphia
This is ultimately going to come down to what kind of coach Kyle Shanahan is. Will he pull his confidant and starter in times of trouble? Does Hoyer get immunity outside of potential injury? Or would Shanahan play the hot hand?
What we do know is the 49ers have nothing to lose in a trial-and-error-filled rebuilding period, and they’d like to get a legitimate look at Beathard before the 2018 season so they can properly evaluate their options. Matthew Stafford just landed a monster five-year, $135 contract extension from the Lions, raising Kirk Cousins’ price tag. And Beathard’s ability could impact where the 49ers choose to select a QB in 2018, if they do.
The eye test and numbers have made Beathard look like competition for Hoyer, but we'll see if he gets an opportunity during the regular season.
Media courtesy USA Today Sports, San Jose Mercury News