San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy has had an incredible journey in a short period of time, becoming just the second Mr. Irrelevant to make a Super Bowl, while breaking a number of records along the way, both in franchise and NFL history as the last pick of the draft.
With an MVP-like season, Purdy became the 49ers’ single-season passing leader, slightly eclipsing Jeff Garcia with 4,280 passing yards, despite playing in only 16 games.
However, it wasn’t always pretty for the 2023 seventh-round pick, who faced his fair share of learning moments as he began his career in preparation for this weekend’s Super Bowl.
In fact, Purdy’s first true action came against the Kansas City Chiefs last season in a blowout loss for the 49ers, where the 49ers quarterback completed 4/9 passes for 66 yards and an interception at the end of the game.
“I’m not going to lie, it was going pretty fast. It was my first NFL action and I’m dropping back,” Purdy said on Wednesday about the Chiefs game last year. “I don’t know if Chris Jones was in, but I was like, ‘Man, Chris Jones is there. Frank Clark on the edge.’ So for me, my mind was racing pretty fast and I was trying to get through reads pretty quickly and definitely did feel rushed. I’m not going to lie, I did.”
“There were some plays where I was able to make some throws and get into a rhythm and then obviously at the end I sailed one over Jauan’s head for an interception,” Purdy said. “But just where the game was at was a little weird. It was out of reach and then I was just trying to go in and get my first action and get into a rhythm.”
Purdy didn’t see any passing volume again until Week 13 when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a broken foot, leading the then-rookie to step into a key role and take the reigns as the primary signal-caller.
While Purdy immediately came onto the scene, completing 67 percent of his passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception against the Miami Dolphins, it was also a learning curve, as he was trying to minimize mistakes, rather than be himself.
“Last year when I stepped in, we were on a roll as a team,” Purdy shared. “Just obviously we had the Super Bowl on our minds and for me, really, it was like, all right, we’re rolling. I’m just continuing to do what Jimmy had done before and didn’t want to lose a step or take a step back as an offense. So for me, I didn’t really know or understand until probably this year.”
Additionally, while he did lead the 49ers to six consecutive regular-season wins to end the year, Purdy acknowledged that he made too many mistakes, such as evading the pocket too early and not trusting his teammates and progressions.
“Last year when I first got in you know there was times where I feel like I really wasn’t you know playing the position of quarterback like I like I needed to and wanted to I feel like I was you know sort of quick to get out of the pocket at some points and and rush out and not trust progressions and trust the boys up front,” Purdy said.
Fast-forward to this season and Purdy began to settle in, playing the quarterback position with more poise and ultimately taking what the defense gives him, rather than playing hero ball.
“I feel like this year I’ve done a little bit better of a job of staying within the pocket, going through some reads, taking some check downs, throwing the ball away when I need to,” Purdy shared on Wednesday. “You know, obviously there’s been some times and moments where, you know, I’ve been too aggressive and haven’t had interceptions and stuff. But, I mean, that happens. But, I think a big jump for me this year is just playing the position and not trying to be Superman every play when something’s not there.
A key learning moment for Purdy, however, came during San Francisco’s three-game losing streak, as he saw how several of his teammates came to his defense, which was a sign that he had earned their trust as the team’s quarterback, easing some of the pressure.
“We went on a roll,” Purdy said. “We’re 5-0, and then, honestly, when we went on a streak of losing some games, that’s I feel like when you start questioning and seeing how guys respond to you and my team had my back.”
“Even through those three games that we lost in a row, you had guys on defense, [linebacker] Dre Greenlaw, [linebacker] Fred [Warner], [defensive lineman] Arik Armstead, like all those guys continue to come up to me and say, ‘Dude, we got your back. This is the NFL. It’s not easy.’ And so it was in those moments that I knew I was all right. These guys got my back and we can go.”
Through all of the success this season, it’s easy to forget how, just over a year ago, Purdy suffered a unique torn UCL injury that had his entire offseason, and potentially part of the season, in jeopardy.
With questions about his arm strength and ability to recover, rumors swirled as to whether Purdy would return in time for Week 1, and how the starting quarterback job could be handed elsewhere if that wasn’t the case.
Speaking candidly about his rehab, the 49ers quarterback acknowledged the long process, admitting that he was still recovering his arm strength during the season, although he was at a point where he was ready to play.
“In terms of the rehab and stuff, I feel like it was a long process,” Purdy said. “I got cleared around, I think, like five and a half, six months. And I’m not going to lie, I was still continuing to strengthen my arm as the season started.”
“And that was the whole thing that I was dealing with. But I was good enough to play. And I felt good enough for game one and I mean the rest has sort of been history. But, you just do different mobilities and exercises and stuff because of your arm and the rehab and so your arm by nature I think does get a little stronger. So, those are things I’ve learned and will continue to do moving forward.”
Still, the recovery didn’t stop Purdy from throwing the most 20+ yard plays (72) or the most 40+ yard plays (14) in the NFL this season as he turned up the aggressiveness to field an elite 9.9 yards per attempt figure that ranks eighth-best all-time for a single season.
Purdy’s ability to throw downfield led to a number of explosive plays for the 49ers offense, who managed to be a top passing and rushing team this season en route to 28.9 points per game.
But, through the strong season, Purdy had a rough game in San Francisco’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, which was their lone defeat in an eight-game stretch from Week 10 to Week 17.
While a number of his mistakes were attributed to the defense being at the right place at the right time, Purdy acknowledged that he forced too many throws against an aggressive group, leading to turnovers and missed opportunities offensively.
“In that Baltimore game, we had a couple of explosive plays early on. And, you know, for myself, I started, you know, just feeling good about what we were doing,” Purdy said about the Ravens game. “And I sort of bought into the emotion of, ‘all right, we had some big plays here and I can go, I can fit this throw in now, even though it wasn’t even the right coverage for me to do that.’ And so, and I learned the hard way through some interceptions. And I just, I feel like I wasn’t playing with a clear mind at that point.”
“So. that’s something I definitely learned and obviously we’re playing in the Super Bowl, another big game and how can I understand that every play has a life of its own? Just because you had a big play in the last play it doesn’t mean this next play is gonna be another big play, like the right play might be checking it down or throwing it away so those are things I had to learn and definitely taking into account with how aggressive and how good the Chiefs defense is.”
In his final challenge for the 2023-24 season, Purdy and the 49ers will face another uncharacteristic, yet opportunistic defense in the Kansas City Chiefs, where playing clean football will be key to winning.
Learning from his previous experiences, Purdy is ready to prove his doubters wrong one more time, and potentially cement his legacy by being the first 49ers quarterback to bring home the Lombardi Trophy since Steve Young did so in 1994.
But, one thing’s clear: Purdy has come a long way from his first true action against the Kansas City Chiefs, ascending into one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL along that journey.