LAS VEGAS (AP) — Minutes after the San Francisco 49ers finished off a stunning comeback to win the NFC championship, star defender Nick Bosa pulled aside quarterback Brock Purdy and marveled at his journey.
Purdy has undergone a meteoric rise from “Mr. Irrelevant” as the final pick of the 2022 draft to MVP finalist and starting quarterback in the Super Bowl in a span of less than 22 months.
It’s been one of the most improbable draft success stories in recent memories and seems to shock just about everyone other than Purdy, who had the steadfast confidence that he could make it as long as someone gave him a chance
“People can overlook you or may not think you’re the biggest, the fastest, the strongest,” Purdy said. “But if you believe in yourself and you think that you have what it takes and you truly do believe that and you don’t give up on it, then you can achieve it.”
When the 49ers went into the 2022 draft, quarterback was not a high priority, but San Francisco was hoping to grab one in the late rounds to groom as a backup. The Niners had traded three first-round picks a year earlier to take Trey Lance third overall and were planning for him to become the franchise quarterback.
Scout Steve Slowik grew intrigued by Purdy’s poise and production as a four-year starter at Iowa State, putting him on the radar for the coaching staff. Assistant coaches Brian Griese and Klay Kubiak graded Purdy the best of the late-round options and coach Kyle Shanahan was sold, having put a mid-round grade on him.
But the Niners spent the early parts of the day of that draft adding depth to the trenches and secondary. Then it was time for the final pick — awarded to them as compensation for losing C.J. Beathard — in free agency — and San Francisco made the move that All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams has equated to winning the Powerball lottery.
Purdy arrived and immediately impressed his coaches and teammates even if he got only a handful of snaps in teams drills behind Lance and veteran backup Nate Sudfeld.
He performed well enough for Shanahan to tell owner Jed York a week into training camp that Purdy might already be better than Lance, Sudfeld or Jimmy Garoppolo, who the team was looking to trade before bringing him back that season on a reduced salary.
Shanahan quickly proved prophetic with Purdy taking over for an injured Garoppolo in Week 13 last season. He led the Niners to a win over Miami that day and then seven straight as a starter before suffering a serious elbow injury on the opening drive of an NFC title game loss at Philadelphia.
Purdy underwent surgery in the offseason and the Niners made an inquiry into whether Tom Brady wanted to play another season. When that idea went nowhere with Brady’s decision to remain retired, the Niners went all-in with Purdy.
“They’ve believed in me since I’ve stepped in since last year,” Purdy said. ”Throughout the year I feel like I’ve grown and we’ve all grown together, so definitely blessed to have these guys in the locker room with me and they’ve definitely had my back through the good and the bad. We’ve been through some stuff this year and it hasn’t all been pretty.”
He was healthy enough to start a throwing program in late May, resumed practice early in training camp and delivered one of the most prolific seasons ever by a San Francisco quarterback.
He set a franchise record for yards passing (4,280), became the first Niners QB in more than two decades to throw at least 30 TD passes (31), and led the league in both passer rating (113) and yards per attempt (9.6).
But some critics have tried to downgrade him by calling him a “system quarterback” or “game manager” being carried by his talented teammates and creative coach.
Shanahan bristles at that, saying managing the game and running the system are the first two keys for any quarterback. But Purdy does even more.
“If you want to stay in the system, understand that no system is going to be perfect and there’s going to be times there are no answers,” Shanahan said. “If you’re going to stay there, you better make some plays. That’s how you become a consistent quarterback. You’re a game manager, you run the system right and you can make some plays. If you don’t have those three things, it’s a matter of time. But Brock does all three of those things.”
His performance so far in the playoffs has been a little shakier as he struggled in the rain for three-plus quarters of the divisional round against Green Bay and had another slow start in the conference championship game against Detroit.
But he also flashed his play-making ability and helped lead San Francisco’s first two second-half comebacks of the season, leading a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Packers and helping the Niners rally from 17 points down to beat the Lions.
In those key moments, Purdy proved he’s more than just a passenger on an uber-talented offense.
“When you dive into it, and you’re watching, it’s not a quarterback that’s managing all those tabs they put on him,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “He’s for real. He makes all the throws. He’s really, really smart.”
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