Analysis

Can San Francisco 49ers Win Super Bowl With Brock Purdy?

This season I have studied many NFL quarterbacks, including a deep look at two first-year players: first-rounder Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers and third-rounder Desmond Ridder of the Atlanta Falcons. With the last pick of the draft (262nd overall), the 49ers selected Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy, making him 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant. Thus far he’s played as well and arguably better than any of the other rookie quarterbacks this season. 

With three quarterbacks already on the 49ers roster at the time he was drafted, the hope was Purdy would compete with Nate Sudfeld for the No. 3 spot behind Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Eight months and two major injuries later, the 49ers find their Super Bowl hopes squarely resting on the shoulders of the seventh-round rookie, who has gone from Mr. Irrelevant to one of most relevant players in the NFL.

Since Garoppolo’s injury against the Dolphins, Purdy has won all three games he’s played in and is 2-0 as a starter. He has played winning football at the most difficult position in all of sports and far exceeded expectations from those outside the team headquarters in Santa Clara, California.

Based on my three-game evaluation of Purdy, I have found his play to be remarkable in a few ways. There are elements of his game that need improvement, but Purdy has shown the ability to play quarterback at a high level.

He entered a perfect storm for a young quarterback. He plays for a team with an outstanding defense, a group of excellent skill players around him and a well-coached, quarterback-friendly system.

But is Purdy just a regular season feel-good story? Or does he have the capacity to help a talented San Francisco roster make a serious playoff push? Let’s look at what the tape has shown so far. 

What Makes Purdy so Good?

Purdy has shown he can function in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage with an offense that consistently uses pre-snap shifts, motions and oddball formations. This means he’s an efficient learner.  

As the third-or fourth-string quarterback in training camp, I would assume he received minimal reps in OTAs, training camp and the season thus far, so it’s a credit to Purdy and the coaching staff for their quarterback development process to have him prepared for this important moment.

Purdy has a high level of spatial awareness and functional intelligence. He has a tremendous feel in the pocket for pressure. He has the courage to stand in and deliver, knowing he will get hit after the throw, yet he also has the athleticism and agility to extend the play in the pocket, while finding a quiet space to deliver the ball.

Spatial Awareness

Above, Purdy shows his spatial awareness of the Miami secondary and quick release to deliver the ball. Although this ball was properly located, the pass was dropped and cost San Francisco a touchdown. Fortunately, Purdy and McCaffrey overcame the dropped pass with a touchdown completion on the next play.

Courage in the Pocket

Throughout his three games, Purdy has found a way to complete passes while taking some vicious hits after releasing the football. He can overcome protection mistakes and throw hot. Above, he stands in the pocket under pressure and instinctively lowers his arm delivery around an oncoming defensive lineman to accurately complete the ball to Jauan Jennings over the middle.

With center Jake Brendel and tight end George Kittle missing their blocks, Purdy makes it right by taking on the free rushers (above) and delivering a strike to Christian McCaffrey (below) for a touchdown. This is elite quarterback play.

Extending the Play in the Pocket

Above, Purdy finishes reading his progressions and begins to climb the pocket. He uses his quickness and agility to make an awkward throw, his feet leave the ground to complete the ball to Kittle over the middle.

Accuracy Under Pressure

Purdy is physically tough within the chaos of the pocket, and he can also be extremely accurate. He has shown the ability, under pressure and in the pocket, to make dynamic completions, extend plays and recognize the hot receiver when there is a free rusher.

With minimal reps to prepare for Miami’s pressure defense, Purdy makes one of the most impressive plays of any quarterback I’ve watched this season (above). With a free rusher in his face, he releases high in a retreating position and still delivers the ball accurately for a key third-down conversion to Kittle.

This is a perfectly located throw (below) that Purdy wasn’t able to see until they got in the film room because he was on his back after taking a vicious hit from Jaelan Phillips

Using Multiple Arm Angles

Purdy has all the attributes to have success as a passer. He throws the ball with quickness, primarily with the classic over-the-top, up-and-out delivery. But, Purdy can also throw from multiple arm angles to work around the chaos of defenders.

Above, Purdy delivers with a side-arm, three-fourths release to circumvent Phillips on a quick screen.

Above, he has the quickness to alter his body and throwing motion again, resulting in a completion to Kyle Juszczyk in the flat.

He has the instincts and awareness to almost simultaneously make a quick decision, accurately deliver and avoid a hit from an oncoming rusher, as shown above. He does this naturally and effortlessly.

Purdy is most importantly accurate, completing almost 67 percent of his passes with only one turnover in the last three games. When he can stand in the pocket and freely deliver, there is a good chance the ball will be delivered in the right spot.

Anticipation Under Pressure

I have not seen Purdy throw live, but he does not appear to have an explosive arm. What really makes him a high-end quarterback is his anticipation and accuracy, which I regard as more important traits. Having a feel for when to deliver the ball is one of the unique characteristics of quarterbacking that is difficult to teach.

One of Purdy’s more impressive qualities is his ability to not only anticipate but change ball speeds and trajectory when appropriate.

Above, Purdy anticipates an open space in the defense, and the ball is out with touch before McCaffrey brings his eyes around, allowing him to make an easy catch for a touchdown. 

Purdy’s ability to throw the ball upfield, under pressure has also been impressive. Although Kyle Shanahan isn’t calling a lot of deep shots, Purdy’s accuracy and production on throws beyond 10 yards has been excellent. He is 14 of 20 for 312 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, all adding up to his 131.3 passer rating. 

Purdy gets the ball out just in time when under extreme pressure and while taking another vicious hit (above). Some quarterbacks do not have a feel for when the defense will collapse around them, leading to tipped passes or sacks. During Purdy’s three NFL games, he has shown a unique ability to get the ball up and out with quickness and a good sense of timing.

In this specific case, Purdy launches a touchdown to Brandon Aiyuk (below) just before Buccaneers defensive lineman Deadrin Senat gets home.

Throwing on the Move

For a quarterback to have success in the NFL, he must extend plays out of the pocket, throw accurately from awkward positions and use his legs if necessary. The tape clearly shows those skills are in Purdy’s wheelhouse.

Above, Purdy shows he meets the NFL quarterback requirement of throwing accurately on the run. With a high release and shoulders/hips squared to his target, he fires an accurate completion to Deebo Samuel while under duress (below).

When Purdy can complete a throwing motion, he can throw accurately with ideal placement to lead his receivers in stride and maximize yards after the catch, as he does on the play below to Samuel. He threw the pass one yard in front of Samuel’s numbers, allowing him to create yards after the catch.

How Did Purdy Slip in the Draft?

Looking at the positives, one might start to wonder how a player such as Purdy slipped to the seventh round. Purdy had a 30-17 record and helped transform the Iowa State program, yet some NFL teams felt he was a low-level priority free agent type quarterback because of his reputation with streaky bouts of inaccuracy and tendency to leave the pocket early.

We have not seen those issues come up yet at the NFL level, but we have some indicators of facets he needs to improve on.

  1. He has missed some easy throws.
  2. He can get lost under pressure and be loose with the ball while escaping the pocket.
  3. Most importantly, he’s lacked situational awareness by forcing the football.

Above, with a 21-0 lead and 28 seconds left in the first half, Purdy recklessly throws the ball into coverage and has it intercepted by Anthony Nelson. Fortunately, the play was called back due to a penalty that kept Tampa Bay off the field.

With a clean pocket, Purdy forced a seam route up the hash with Quandre Diggs clearly in a position to take the ball away (above). Diggs dropped a sure interception that hit him between the numbers and could have given Seattle significant momentum with two minutes left in the half.

Again last week, Purdy forced a ball into double coverage (above). Fortunately, the ball was poorly thrown, and he avoided another potential turnover.

Winning can hide deficiencies, but I’m sure that Shanahan will have debriefed and made those corrections during the course of this past week.

Purdy has been called a transformational leader by his former college coach, Matt Campbell, but does he have the consistency to lead a ready-made Super Bowl contender? His ability to learn from his mistakes and continue to maintain his high level of play will make the difference.

With Washington in a must-win situation and the 49ers playoff seed not yet determined, this Sunday will be another excellent test for the most relevant Mr. Irrelevant we’ve ever seen.

WATCH: Purdy’s Story Parallels Tom Brady’s

 

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