SANTA CLARA — Is C.J. Beathard the guy or not?
That’s what the rest of the 49ers’ season is about now – 10 more games. Beathard has to answer this crucial question for himself and the team. Is he the franchise quarterback, the 49ers QB of the future, or do they have to keep searching? They need an answer.
You could argue the 49ers shouldn’t have to search, that they’d have their answer if they drafted a quarterback in the first round this year. The Niners had the second pick and traded down one spot to take defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Thomas is solid, but doesn’t seem like a franchise-changing talent, at least not yet.
Instead of Thomas, the 49ers could have drafted quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has appeared in six games for the Texans, posted a passer rating of 101.1 and thrown 15 touchdown passes – tops in the NFL. He certainly seems like the Texans’ answer at quarterback. He might have been the 49ers’ answer.
But 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t want Watson. Watson is a running quarterback who played in a spread offense at Clemson. Shanahan wanted a pocket quarterback who played in a pro-style offense, and that’s Beathard. He played in one at Iowa.
The Niners took Beathard in the third round with the 104th pick in the draft. It remains to be seen if Shanahan made the right decision. He hasn’t been proven wrong yet, and he has a good track record drafting quarterbacks. He took Kirk Cousins with the 102nd pick in the 2012 draft.
Shanahan knows what it takes for a quarterback to succeed in his offense. He constantly talks about how complicated his scheme is and how long it takes a player to master it. If Watson were on the 49ers now, he might still be on the bench studying his playbook.
And if he were playing for the 49ers, he might not be as successful as he has been in Houston. He definitely wouldn’t have the outstanding supporting cast he has on the Texans.
And as well as Watson has played this season, he did not play well in his NFL debut. He came in midway through the game, completed 12 of 23 pass attempts for 102 yards, threw one touchdown pass and one interception and posted a passer rating of 60.4. His breakout performance came two games later.
This brings us to Beathard. His first extended action in the NFL was better than Watson’s debut. Like Watson, he came into a game in progress against the Redskins. Beathard completed 19 of 36 pass attempts for 245 yards, threw one touchdown pass and one interception and posted a passer rating of 72.1. Maybe Beathard will turn out to be better than Watson. Maybe Beathard is the answer for the 49ers.
He definitely did good things on Sunday. He led a nice, two-minute touchdown drive at the end of the first half. He led the team back from a 17-0 deficit and tied the game. And he seemed confident and relaxed the whole time. He wasn’t intimidated to face players he grew up watching and admiring. And his teammates responded to him. They rose to the occasion to give him the help he needed. Brian Hoyer, now deposed, inspired none of that.