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How Brock Purdy went from NFL’s ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ to leading the Niners in the playoffs

Who is Brock Purdy, the rookie quarterback for the 49ers?

2022 NFL Draft - Rounds 2-3 Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft quarterback class was expected to be a one of the worst in recent memory. For the first time since 1997, no quarterbacks were taken in the first 19 picks and just a single quarterback (the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kenny Pickett) was taken in the entirety of the first two rounds. When the season started, exactly zero rookie quarterbacks were in the starting lineup.

That’s what makes Brock Purdy’s rise to the top of the draft class one of the more fascinating stories in the NFL. On Sunday, Purdy will start for the second-seeded San Francisco 49ers after an impressive five-game stretch as the team’s starter to close out the regular season.

Purdy was the very last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which is often playfully referred to as “Mr. Irrelevant.” He entered one of the most strange and unsettled quarterback situations in the NFL.

San Francisco had no need for a starting quarterback. In fact, they were already in the midst of a quarterback controversy. Having failed to trade Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason, the 49ers entered training camp having to choose between him and their 2021 first-round pick Trey Lance. Quickly, they chose to go with Lance, their perceived quarterback of the future. Purdy was firmly third on the depth chart.

But Purdy showed enough in training camp and the preseason to warrant a spot on the team’s 53-man roster.

“In preseason, he looked like he had some dog in him,” teammate Nick Bosa said back in December. “I love his mindset, he’s super tough. He’s not afraid to make mistakes. He gets playmakers the ball.”

In Week 2 of the regular season, Lance suffered an ankle injury that would cost him the entire season. The 49ers—just a few months after resolving to trade Garoppolo—had to fall back on him as their starter.

Garoppolo played well enough to get the 49ers to 8-4 on the season, holding first place in the NFC West. But on the opening drive of the team’s Week 13 contest against the Miami Dolphins, Garoppolo broke his foot.

The 49ers had no choice but to turn to Purdy not only for the rest of the game, but for the rest of the regular season, and with divisional, playoff, and championship hopes still very much alive.

San Francisco has not lost a game since. They have had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL since Purdy took over, averaging 33.5 points per game. Prior to Purdy’s takeover, the 49ers had scored more than 33 points just twice on the season. Since Week 13, Purdy ranks first in the NFL in passer rating (112.0), tied for first in passing touchdowns (13), and fourth in yards per attempt (8.1).

“He’s definitely the most poised rookie I’ve ever had,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after the team’s Week 15 win over the Seattle Seahawks. “He’s been like that since he’s gotten here.”

Purdy likely fell so far in the draft due to his uneven play in college. A four-year starter at Iowa State, Purdy developed a reputation for being a tough, hard-nosed player with decent accuracy (67.6 completion percentage for his college career) and plenty of playing experience. However, he had physical limitations with just mediocre arm strength and little mobility.

Regardless, that skillset has translated well to Shanahan’s play-action heavy offense. Purdy is capable of being patient, going through his progressions, and, most importantly, delivering an accurate ball.

But what has overwhelmingly stood out to both fans who have watched him and the players who share the huddle with him is his ability to lead the team like a veteran quarterback. Never was that more clear than in the team’s Week 17 contest. San Francisco’s normally dependable defense was struggling against the Las Vegas Raiders, and they needed their quarterback to step up late in the game. Purdy led the offense to three fourth-quarter scoring drives in what would eventually be a 37-34 win in overtime.

“He just is unflappable,” former 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley said on the Niners Nation podcast this week. “He has a tremendous amount of poise, not only just for a rookie, but just as a quarterback. He’s not scared of the moments.”

On Saturday, Purdy will lead the 49ers against a Seattle Seahawks team he already beat back in Week 15. While any quarterback’s first playoff game is considered a monumental moment in a player’s career—especially one as young (23) as Purdy—Mr. Irrelevant isn’t sweating it.

“I’m not trying to make it bigger than what it is,” Purday said this week. “Obviously, there’s more on the line and everything, but I think having six games under my belt in terms of just playing in an NFL game and trying to win for four quarter has helped me get to this point. All the guys in the locker room have got my back. We’ve all grown together, so we’re ready for what’s ahead.”