Leistikow: Inside C.J. Beathard's Friday night to remember
As Friday night approached Saturday morning, things were winding down in the Thompson Station, Tenn., home of Casey and Susan Beathard.
Susan was already upstairs in bed; Casey was fixing to join her.
Their son, C.J., was barking at the television as Day 2 of NFL Draft coverage neared its conclusion, flummoxed that Iowa football teammate Desmond King’s name hadn’t been called.
“We were kind of coming off a low of watching the Preds lose,” Casey said of the mood, having watched their hometown Nashville Predators get beaten on a late goal in their NHL playoff game. “(We were) kind of bummed about that.”
Then, with a few picks left in the third round, he noticed something unusual.
C.J.’s cell phone rang.
Kids text each other, Casey thought to himself. They don’t talk on the phone; especially just before 11:30 p.m.
“He answered it,” Casey said. “He said, ‘Yeah, this is C.J.,’ very formally. ‘Yes, sir.’ And that’s when I knew.”
And soon, too, did the rest of football-watching America: With the 104th pick of the NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers had selected C.J. Beathard, the quarterback from Iowa.
“The celebration was on," Casey said. "It was crazy.”
To the outside world, this pick was a reach.
But to the 49ers, new coach Kyle Shanahan got his man.
A Monday Morning Quarterback article, written from the perspective inside the 49ers’ draft room by prominent journalist Peter King, outlined how Beathard was “the only quarterback Shanahan wanted in this draft.” With Friday’s third round winding down, they traded up five spots to get him.
“(Shanahan) has a real specific vision at each position — what he’s looking for,” new 49ers general manager John Lynch said during Monday’s Rich Eisen Show. “And C.J. Beathard, as much as any quarterback in this draft, kind of matched what he likes.”
Interestingly, the team Lynch traded with — the Minnesota Vikings — would use that 109th overall pick Saturday morning to select the second Hawkeye taken in the draft: defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.
“To heck with patience,” Lynch recalled thinking. “I want to sleep well tonight, knowing that we got a guy that we coveted at a real integral position.”
As it turns out, the Niners moved just in front of two other teams that fell in love with Beathard during the pre-draft process — the Pittsburgh Steelers (105th) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (107th).
Even Dad admitted he bought into the media narrative that his son was probably going to be a late-round pick at best.
He said C.J. would tell him that he didn't know what he was talking about, that he hadn't been at workouts and interviews. It dawned on Casey Beathard later that his son was right.
“Why in the world would (Lynch) tell a mock drafter," Casey said, "'Well, yeah, my favorite guy is C.J. Beathard.'”
C.J. became a late-third-rounder and the sixth QB chosen in the draft — despite ranking outside the top 10 of most lists of draft experts.
He has a clear path to a 49ers roster spot, with only career backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in front of him.
“It’s still surreal,” Casey said. “For him, too.”
Even Hawkeye fans probably had some form of disbelief when Beathard — not King, Johnson, or George Kittle (who would later get picked by the 49ers, too) — would be the first Iowa player off the board and the highest-drafted quarterback ever under Kirk Ferentz.
While covering the pre-draft prospects of several draft-eligible Hawkeyes, one topic kept coming up about Beathard: his understanding of the game and his knowledge of the pro-style offense.
While you'd expect agents to speak optimistically about their clients, it legitimately became clear to Beathard's representation that he was quietly on the rise as the draft approached.
“The more time that teams spent with him, the more they liked him," agent Bruce Tollner of Rep1 Sports told me Tuesday. "Several teams had him in the third- and fourth-round range, and that's where we expected him to go."
And, remember, the biggest thing (besides a decimated receiver corps) that held back Beathard’s yardage numbers over the course of his 28 college starts: injuries.
First, playing through hip and groin problems as a junior, during Iowa's 12-2 run, that led to offseason sports-hernia surgery.
Then dealing with nagging stuff as a senior — from his knee in the preseason to a hamstring pull in the Outback Bowl. His agent even said that Beathard probably shouldn’t have played in the late-January Senior Bowl, where he had a lackluster performance, because his hammy wasn’t healed.
But it sounds like the injuries actually strengthened the 49ers’ resolve to acquire Beathard.
In the MMQB article, Shanahan called Beathard “tough as s---" and likened him to Washington Redskins starter Kirk Cousins, another two-plus-year college starter from a Big Ten Conference school and similarly sized to Beathard's 6-foot-2½, 219 pounds.
In San Francisco, playing through injuries shouldn’t be an issue early on.
Lynch and Shanahan are intent on taking a developmental approach with their new QB.
If things progress, Beathard just might become the first former Hawkeye to attempt a pass in a regular-season NFL game since Marc Vlasic in 1991.
C.J. leaves Thursday for San Francisco’s three-day rookie mini-camp.
One of the first text messages he received was from Hoyer, the presumed starter in San Francisco, to welcome him aboard.
For Dad, it feels like five years ago, when he sent his boy from Nashville to Iowa City.
"He’ll be excited to get out there Thursday and take the next step,” he said. “I think (for him) it’s like going off to college. … He just appreciates some guys that have convictions and believe in him."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.