After two days of contrasting comments from John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan at the NFL owners meetings, the 49ers’ quarterback situation is still unclear.
Brock Purdy is the “leader in the clubhouse” and he may be ready for training camp, but there’s a chance he may have to wait until Week 4, giving Trey Lance the chance to make the job his own.
Lance will get first-team reps in OTAs and minicamp, but he’ll have to split them with Sam Darnold, whom the 49ers signed to a one-year deal this month.
Clear as mud.
The logical conclusion to draw from the mixed messages the 49ers’ brass put out there is that Purdy is probably the favorite, provided he can return in time to lead the San Francisco offense.
Statistical support for Purdy is not difficult to find. He was second in Expected Points Added per play over the course of his five regular-season starts, helping the Niners average a league-leading 33.6 points per game over that period. Purdy also finished the season with a QBR of 65.6, which would have ranked fifth in the NFL had he attempted enough throws to qualify.
On Monday, Football Outsiders provided more evidence to back up Purdy’s status as the top candidate to be the starter, releasing its ‘failed completions’ data.
Football Outsiders describes a failed completion as any completed pass that fails to gain 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% on second down, or 100% on third or fourth down.
Purdy did not have enough attempts to qualify for a ranking but, as Bryan Knowles explains in his article, Purdy had 24 failed completions in his rookie season, giving him a successful completion rate of 52.9% that would have been the fifth-best in the NFL.
Those numbers come with the caveats that they are from a very small sample size and that Jimmy Garoppolo was second in successful completion rate (55%) for the second successive season, behind only Patrick Mahomes.
Garoppolo’s success, and that of Purdy, speak to the effectiveness of the Shanahan offense as a quarterback incubator.
But his successful completion rate still illustrates that Purdy threw for the required yardage more often than most of his NFL contemporaries last season, albeit with help from an offensive supporting cast that averaged 6.6 yards after catch per completion – second-most in the NFL.
He did so while displaying decisiveness when operating within structure and the creativity to make the plays outside of structure that were a key reason behind the 49ers’ decision to draft Lance in 2021.
San Francisco finally saw those second-reaction plays added to its offense, just not from the anticipated source, and the combination of efficiency and playmaking ability Purdy demonstrated likely give him the edge in the QB competition, all things being equal.
Whether Purdy will, in fact, be healthy in time to begin what many assume will be a first full season as a starter remains to be seen, but his tape from last season and the numbers point to him being the right man for the starting job if his elbow heals at the rate the Niners hope.