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Brock Purdy’s ascension from NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant to 49ers Super Bowl QB, explained

This is how Brock Purdy became one of the NFL’s best stories.

NFC Championship - Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Brock Purdy is the distillation of football romanticism. The great underdog, the story of rising out of nowhere to compete for football’s biggest prize, more proof that it doesn’t matter where you’re taken in the NFL Draft, but the team you land with.

As Purdy approaches his first appearance in the Super Bowl, he remains one of the league’s most polarizing players. To some he’s the second coming of Tom Brady, a modest athlete taken in the tail-end of the draft, outplaying his position, and cementing himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. To others, he’s an overrated, over-hyped product of the offense he’s in, and discussion of his brilliance is annoying.

Today we dive into the twists and turns it took for Brock Purdy to go from Mr. Irrelevant to starting in a Super Bowl as we unpack why such a great underdog story is so polarizing.

From Arizona to Iowa

Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Brock Purdy took a shining to football from a very young age. He began playing flag football at five, where he played quarterback. Showing a natural understanding of the position, as well as processing speed beyond his peers — it wasn’t long before Purdy became the quarterback for Perry High School.

Despite playing in one of the toughest districts in Arizona, Purdy lifted everyone around him. During his tenure as starting quarterback the team had a modest 27-13 record, though local sports writers pegged Perry to be much, much worse. In a very real way they were pushed forward by their quarterback.

This wasn’t enough to make Purdy an elite prospect though. The three-star recruit got some solid offers, most notably from Alabama and Texas A&M, but desiring playing time over prowess he enrolled at Iowa State — where he had the greatest chance of starting.

Circumstance makes Purdy “the guy” in Ames

Entering as a true freshman in 2018, Purdy was officially listed as the third-string quarterback for the Cyclones behind senior Kyle Kempt, and sophomore Zeb Noland.

Kempt was injured early in the season, effectively ending his time as starting quarterback. Noland took over and proved to be ineffective. Purdy was given his first chance to start against West Virginia — and he was sensational. Completing 72 percent of his passes, Purdy finished with 254 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a dominant win. It looked like Iowa State had found their guy.

Purdy was the full-time starter from this point on. What we saw over his four years was a bit of a mixed bag. Purdy was accurate, he made good decisions with the football — but he wasn’t much of a playmaker, and lacked elite athleticism beyond quick-twitch movement in the pocket.

When his time at Iowa State was done he finished with numbers which were impressive, but far from elite. Purdy completed 67.7 percent of his passes, threw for an average of 253 yards-per-game, while having a middling NCAA TD/INT ratio of 81/33.

Mr. Irrelevant

There really wasn’t much hype around Purdy when the 2022 NFL Draft rolled around. He ranked around No. 10 in the class, which typically would have made him a mid-round pick, but this was the weakest quarterback class, maybe ever.

A total of only nine quarterbacks were selected. Outside of Kenny Pickett nobody was seen to be a first round talent — and even then there was debate about whether he was worth an early pick at all. The final class is a who’s-who of mediocrity, outside of Brock Purdy.

  • Kenny Pickett (No. 20, Steelers)
  • Desmond Ridder (No. 74, Falcons)
  • Malik Willis (No. 86, Titans)
  • Matt Corral (No. 94, Panthers)
  • Bailey Zappe (No. 137, Patriots)
  • Sam Howell (No. 144, Commanders)
  • Chris Oladokun (No. 241, Steelers)
  • Skylar Thompson (No. 247, Dolphins)
  • Brock Purdy (No. 262, 49ers)

Originally pegged to be a priority Undrafted Free Agent, Purdy got the call as the final pick of the NFL Draft. It’s a move that’s symbolic more than anything, and traditionally these guys don’t do anything in the league. In fact, it’s often seen to be more beneficial to be a UDFA in this spot because you can choose your team, rather than being forced onto a roster in the back end.

This time it was different.

Purdy finds his perfect home

Perhaps the wildest thing about Purdy arriving in San Francisco is how much it mirrored his experience at Iowa State.

The Niners had an experienced QB in Jimmy Garoppolo, a sophomore who wasn’t reaching his potential in Trey Lance, and the potential was there for Purdy to make an impact — so long as that door opened.

Initially the 49ers were desperate to make Lance work. The team invested heavily in him by trading up in the 2021 NFL Draft, and had his second year circled as a time to debut. It was horrific. Lance was clearly unprepared for the NFL, but also didn’t have a grasp on what running the Kyle Shanahan offense was. In the first quarter of Week 2, a broken ankle ended Lance’s season, with Garoppolo being given back the starting job. It was very much a case of “the devil you know,” when it came to Jimmy G.

Deep down the Niners knew that Garoppolo wasn’t a guy who could win it all, but he was a known quantity. Then, in Week 12, disaster struck once again. Garoppolo suffered a foot injury, and nobody was left to step in.

Sink or swim, it was Brock Purdy time — and he might as well have been Michael Phelps.

The ascendency of Brock Purdy

It was immediately clear that Purdy got it. He was totally in-sync with Shanahan on the field, and ratted off a 5-0 record as starting QB. Purdy’s decision making was spot-on, he was accurate, and at the very least played like a plus-level Garoppolo.

Purdy fever had fully gripped the Bay Area, and his legend was growing. This wasn’t a perfect QB who jumped off the screen with his personal brilliance, but excelled at doing all the little things that made the offense tick.

Not only that, but the pressure never seemed too big for him — leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game, where it was his time to be hurt against the Eagles, in a game San Francisco never seemed ready for.

Purdy would have surgery in the offseason and we all waited to see what San Francisco would do.

The Brock Purdy era

Entering 2023 there were major questions about what the 49ers would do at quarterback. They had three players, all of whom were injured the prior year, and an unclear path on how they could win at the position.

Garoppolo left to join the Raiders as their starting quarterback, leaving Lance and Purdy to battle it out. the No. 3 overall pick the 49ers took hoping he’d be the guy, and Mr. Irrelevant, who showed he could actually be what the team was looking for.

Despite flirting with some other options, San Francisco named Purdy as the starter over Lance, traded away their other quarterback to the Cowboys, and put all their eight behind Purdy. He gave back to them in kind, leading this team to a 12-5 record, and back-to-back playoff wins.

Who is Brock Purdy?

One of the reasons it’s so fascinating to watch Purdy play is that he’s so polarizing. No analytics support Purdy being an elite quarterback, instead chalking it up to his astounding supporting cast on the 49ers. By the same token, Purdy really looks the part while watching him play. Sure, he doesn’t have elite arm strength — but it’s good enough to move the ball, and Purdy possesses an edge that Garoppolo didn’t possess.

Now we approach the Super Bowl, and a chance to try and settle this once and for all. If Purdy can navigate the brutal Chiefs defense and turn this into a win it will go a long way to dispel the idea that he’s only good because of the offense. Meanwhile a loss, particularly one where Purdy struggles, will fuel the conversation that he can’t be anything more than a plus-level game manager.

This Super Bowl is about more than the two cities vying for NFL immortality, but also whether Purdy can continue the lofty comparisons to Tom Brady. His first ring would go a long way to realizing that, and now we wait to see how it all plays out on Sunday.