From Mr. Irrelevant to Mr. Relevant: The Incredible Journey of Brock Purdy


Brock Purdy leading Iowa State against OSU. (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

By Max Lepore, Sports Writer


The scene is Week 13 of the 2022 NFL season. The 7-4 San Francisco 49ers take on the 8-3 Miami Dolphins.

The 49ers, led by veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, were on a 4-game win streak. After making a key mid-season trade for star running back Christian McCaffrey, they had been the hottest team in the league. Despite their original starting quarterback, 2021’s #3 overall pick Trey Lance, going down with a broken ankle in Week 2, the 49ers had been getting by with Garoppolo, who had led them to the NFC Championship just the previous season.

However, with Lance out of the picture, the 49ers were incredibly vulnerable at the quarterback position. Behind Garoppolo, they had rookie Brock Purdy as the only other option on their roster.

Purdy was not just a rookie though, despite being the very last pick of the 2022 NFL draft. Chosen at No. 262 at the end of the 7th round, expectations were low, and thus he was given the infamous “Mr. Irrelevant” title. Due to his late draft position, it was unknown if Purdy would even make the 49ers’ final roster. However, a strong preseason allowed him to earn the third-string quarterback spot going into the season.

For the 49ers, their season leaned largely on Garoppolo. He played well during their win streak, and he had taken them to a Super Bowl in 2019. However, on the first drive against the Dolphins’ defense on that December day, Garoppolo suffered a bad sack and broke his foot. For a team that had already lost their starting quarterback for the season, losing their backup was not only unthinkable but seemingly detrimental.

After such a tough blow, the team’s Super Bowl aspirations began to slip away. With some of the top defense in the NFL and a plethora of skill on offense, they were right up there as one of the best rosters in the league. However, the success of all of this talent was contingent on one player, a rookie that was taken last in the draft. Unfortunately, the season appeared to be over for the 49ers. Sure, there was success from backup quarterbacks before, but never a rookie Mr. Irrelevant.

That’s when the unthinkable happened. Purdy came into the game for Garoppolo. Not only did he play well, but he led the 49ers to a comeback win. Throwing two touchdown passes, he won a game — against an 8-3 team — that appeared to be over in the first quarter. The 49ers won 33-17, moving to 8-4 on the season.

Immediately after the game, it became abundantly clear that the 49ers were in an unprecedented situation. Many wondered if Garoppolo could heal and return for the playoffs, as they were sure he gave the team the best chance to win. Purdy, though, had other thoughts.

While one success for Mr. Irrelevant had seemed unlikely to many fans, what followed seemed impossible to everyone. Purdy came back the next week to face the legendary Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, Purdy stepped up to the challenge, scoring three total touchdowns and leading the 49ers to an unimaginable 35-7 victory.

Though not everything was good news. Following the theme of the 49ers’ season, Purdy suffered an oblique injury in the victory against the Buccaneers. To make matters worse, the 49ers faced off in a vital game against their rival Seattle Seahawks that Thursday night. The Seahawks had dominated the 49ers for the last decade, and the 49ers had to travel to Seattle with just three days’ rest. If the 49ers won this game, they would secure the NFC West and punch their ticket to the playoffs. However, it was not clear if Purdy would be healthy enough to play.

Thursday Night Football came, and Purdy suited up. Despite having an injury that coincides with sharp pain, he put together a gutsy performance. He threw for two long touchdown passes to star tight end George Kittle, and he led his team to a 21-13 victory over their division rivals. In just three weeks, Purdy led a comeback win against a strong Dolphins team, beat the legendary Tom Brady and clinched a playoff berth in an away game against a dominant division rival. Mr. Irrelevant certainly seemed relevant now.

The unbelievable Purdy run continued for the rest of the season. He led the 49ers to three more wins, finishing their season with a 13-4 record and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Purdy made sure no one had questions about his ability to perform in the postseason. In his first career playoff game, he once again dominated the Seattle Seahawks, scoring four total touchdowns and leading his team to a 41-23 victory. Then, against the Dallas Cowboys, Purdy didn’t record a touchdown, but didn’t give up a turnover either. Making key plays down the stretch, Purdy put the 49ers ahead and led them to a 19-12 win.

Purdy was the last pick of the 2022 NFL draft. Now, he had won seven games in a row for the San Francisco 49ers, and he was about to play in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. If Purdy won the game, he would be the first rookie quarterback to ever start in a Super Bowl. For a team that lost their top two quarterbacks to injury for the season, it was miraculous that they were still standing.

Sadly, the incredible story came to an anti-climatic and quick end. The 49ers could not escape the injury bug, and on his third passing attempt of the game, Brock Purdy tore his right UCL. The nightmares wouldn’t end for San Francisco, as their backup (and 4th-string quarterback for the season), Josh Johnson, suffered a concussion later in the game. Purdy had to play the majority of the second half, attempting to throw the ball with a torn elbow.

Ultimately, the miracles came to an end for the 49ers. Without a quarterback that could actually throw the ball, they suffered a 31-7 loss to the Eagles, who would go on to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

While the season didn’t end the way 49ers fans were hoping, it was still an unbelievable and inspirational story. When all hope seemed lost, Mr. Irrelevant showed up to play. Purdy put up historic numbers despite being a rookie who was just one pick away from going undrafted. 31 teams in the league passed on him, and he was a game away from playing in the Super Bowl. Despite the lowest of expectations, and despite the odds against him, Purdy proved to the world that an individual’s draft position does not determine their capabilities. Purdy proved that he was certainly relevant.


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