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Breaking Down Brock Purdy's Pursuit of NFL History In 49ers' Playoff Run

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 20, 2023

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 14: Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers runs off the field after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 14, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Many figured the San Francisco 49ers' season was doomed when a Jimmy Garoppolo injury forced them to go to preseason third-string quarterback Brock Purdy in December. After all, rookie quarterbacks rarely lead teams deep into the playoffs, let alone lowly drafted or undrafted rookies.

And yet, Mr. Irrelevant from the 2022 draft class has proved to be one of the most relevant players in the NFL.

The 49ers are now 6-0 in Purdy starts, and on Wild Card Weekend the 23-year-old became the lowest-drafted rookie to start and win an NFL playoff game.

A rookie quarterback has never won the Super Bowl as a starter, and yet, at DraftKings, the 49ers have strong odds to go to Super Bowl LVII despite the fact teams passed on their starting signal-caller 261 times in last April's draft.

With a win at home over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Purdy would join Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez as the third rookie quarterback ever to win multiple playoff games. He'd also be just the fifth quarterback ever to reach the conference championship, joining Flacco, Sanchez, Ben Roethlisberger and Shaun King.

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 29:  Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens talks during the "Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year" press conference at the Tampa Convention Center on January 29, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

All four of those guys were top-50 selections, and three of them were drafted in the top 20. Purdy is already an extreme aberration, but he'd stick out like a sore thumb as a 262nd overall selection starting under center—potentially as a favorite—in the NFC title game.

A rookie quarterback has never even completed a pass in a Super Bowl game, but Mr. Irrelevant has a real shot at starting and winning one.

It's pretty damn special.

Sure, it took some breaks for Purdy to land in this spot. And yeah, he wouldn't likely be in this position with a significantly less talented team. It helps to have a coach like Kyle Shanahan and weapons like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk, as well as a top-rated scoring defense that ranks first in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 15: Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers in the locker room after the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on December 15, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 21-13. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

But this is a quarterback-driven era in a quarterback-dominated era, and Purdy deserves a lot of credit for going beyond a custodial role in this extended run as San Francisco's surprise starter.

The Iowa State product would have been the league's highest-rated passer if he had enough pass attempts to qualify. Only four qualified quarterbacks had higher QBR totals and only two had higher yards-per-attempt averages.

Digging deeper, Purdy led the entire league with a ridiculous 132.4 passer rating on third down during the regular season. Under those circumstances, he threw six touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

No wonder there's already plenty of speculation he could push or supplant 2021 first-round pick Trey Lance as the team's regular starter next fall.

"This Brock Purdy thing doesn't look like a fluke," Jason La Canfora said on CBS Sports Radio this week. "They're going to want some veteran on that team, but I don't know how that all shakes out. Obviously, Trey Lance, do they trade him? Some people I've talked to in this league think they will."

Is the sample size still small? Absolutely. Could the slipper come off this weekend or next weekend or on Super Bowl Sunday? Definitely. And Purdy still has work to do, which is reflected in his deep passing metrics (he was just 8-of-22 with four TDs and four INTs on those balls this season).

But for now, Mr. Irrelevant is making legit history and it's a ride worth enjoying.