ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave out some awards four games into the season. He came up with a top-3 for all of the major awards, from MVP to Coach of the Year. As you’d expect, the undefeated teams were well-represented.
It’s no surprise that Kyle Shanahan tops Barnwell’s list for Coach of the Year. The coaches who were second and third were on Shanahan’s staff two years ago. Here’s what Barnwell had to say about Shanahan:
1. Kyle Shanahan, 49ers
The second-best offense in the league belongs to San Francisco, which has quietly started the season with four 30-plus point games. That has happened just 17 times in league history. The first team to do it was the 1948 49ers; through all those great offenses in the 1980s and 1990s, the Niners never managed to start their season with four straight 30-pointers before this season.
Of course, that Shanahan is doing it with an inexperienced seventh-round pick has almost been collectively internalized by now. This isn’t normal! Brock Purdy has returned from his right elbow injury and looked again like a seasoned veteran. Buoyed by Christian McCaffrey and the offense, San Francisco has trailed for a total of 105 seconds so far. The competition hasn’t been as tough as the Cowboys team the 49ers will face in Week 5, but great teams blow out mediocre opponents.
What puts Shanahan over the top is how well his team is doing, even after losing so many coaches and front office executives over the past two seasons. In addition to losing the other two coaches in this top three, he lost another offensive voice this season when Ryans brought Bobby Slowik to Houston to serve as his offensive coordinator. Even with those coaches excelling elsewhere, the 49ers haven’t skipped a beat.
The 49ers offensive output is anything but normal. You can only play who is on the schedule, but the Niners have moved the ball effortlessly up and down the field with the last pick of the draft in 2022 under center.
The 49ers are third in scoring margin in the NFL, behind the Bills and the Cowboys. San Francisco’s offense has taken its foot off the gas to begin the fourth quarter in two of its four games.
Barnwell had Christian McCaffrey as the Offensive Player of the Year. Here’s his case for picking Brock Purdy as an MVP candidate instead of CMC:
I don’t think it’s possible to have McCaffrey and Purdy in the top three for MVP balloting, but one of them has to be in the mix given how consistent and dominant the 49ers have been on offense. I’ve already made the argument for McCaffrey as Offensive Player of the Year and would have no qualms about anybody picking him as the best MVP candidate on the roster as well.
What I keep coming back to with Purdy, though, is how much of our opinion has been formed by how he entered the league. Since Purdy was Mr. Irrelevant and the third choice for the 49ers at quarterback, it’s easy to write him off as a product of his surroundings, a passer blessed to fall into a lineup with McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Trent Williams, and to throw for the league’s best playcaller in Kyle Shanahan. And obviously, there’s nobody arguing against the idea Purdy is in a great situation.
Purdy has now started 12 games between the regular season and postseason, though. One of them ended when his right elbow exploded. The other 11 have been 49ers wins. Jimmy Garoppolo & Co. weren’t winning 100% of the time. Purdy’s numbers are superior to what Garoppolo was doing in San Francisco. He has outplayed Trey Lance, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard and all of the other various quarterbacks the Niners have had in the Shanahan era. And while they didn’t have McCaffrey, Josh Johnson did play in the NFC Championship Game, and he wasn’t able to recreate what Purdy has done or come close.
Using Josh Johnson in an argument doesn’t help Barnwell’s point, but it’s impossible to ignore how much better Purdy is through four games than he was a year ago. First off, he’s not playing this sandlot style of quarterback anymore.
Last year, when Purdy felt pressure, he’d bail from the pocket and be overreliant on making plays on the run. But Brock has been fantastic at not dropping his eyes at the sight of the opposite color and playing in the pocket. Which, ironically enough, is how he’s extending plays and making plays this year.
Barnwell notes that Purdy’s completion percent is up five points, and he is averaging a full yard per throw more than a year ago. Purdy’s success rate is up seven percent, and he’s throwing for first downs nine percent more than last year at 48 percent, which is the best in the NFL.
What kept Purdy from being the top candidate his lack of attempts. He’s averaging 28 passing attempts per game, which is the third-fewest in the NFL.