QB Brock Purdy’s meteoric 49ers rise explained by experts

It took six months from the time San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy was selected as the last overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft for him to turn “Mr. Irrelevant” into a misnomer.

Since then, the much-more-relevant Purdy has drawn comparisons to the slain Brady, Peyton Manning and, yes, seriously, Joe Montanadespite his career spanning roughly 2.5 games.

Purdy is none of those guys. He can only be himself: a gritty big-game leader who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, almost to a fault. The Niners drafted Brock Purdy, and they got Brock Purdy. A hardy few were paid to watch Purdy before his NFL glow-up, and they explained to SFGATE exactly who he is.

‘I’ve never seen a recruitment like this’

Let’s start at Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona, where Purdy was a three-year starter in one of the country’s toughest high school divisions. There, he put up numbers that helped him win the state’s top football award.

“He was a total gamer,” Jordan Hamm, a reporter for Arizona outlet Sports360AZ who covered Purdy from high school through college, told SFGATE. “You hear the same things in the NFL. He’s not the biggest guy, maybe not the quickest, but he was always super slippery and it felt like they’d have four defenders around him and, somehow, he’d get out of it and have a perfect touch pass where it would be a touchdown. It felt like always in the biggest games he would show up.”

Hamm cited two games that stood out during Purdy’s senior season. One was a 65-63 win against Hamilton High School, where the quarterback threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns. The other was a loss in the state championship that Hamm says Purdy “pretty much was willing them to stay in that game.” He threw for 322 yards and five touchdowns, completing 19 of his 42 throws.

Yet, in spite of what he had put together on the field, he had yet to receive an offer from a Power Five school.

“I’ve never seen a recruitment like his,” Hamm said.

“It got to a point where his senior year he’s putting up record-setting numbers and there’s nothing there,” Hamm continued. “I hosted a recruiting segment for the longest time and usually I’m just doing the news, but in this case, and this is the only time I’ve ever done it, I looked into the camera and I was like, ‘Colleges , what’s the deal? What are we missing here? He’s a high character kid, good GPA, incredible leader, so much poise, has all the mental skills, maybe he’s a couple inches too short but you can’t argue against his production.’”

Purdy didn’t get his first Power 5 offer until Dec. 21, 2017, when Kansas came calling. Things would eventually work out as he’d get an offer from the school he would commit to, Iowa State, 21 days lateralthough still well after his senior season.

A change in recruiting rules was huge. That year’s new “early signing day” allowed players to make official commitments in late December, and trickled down to less-heralded recruits, who shot up recruiting boards across the country once the must-have names were signed.

“All of a sudden I think these coaches saw tape of Brock and it became very clear that he was the best available quarterback remaining,” Hamm said. “If this happened one year prior, I don’t know if we’re talking about Brock the same way, or if we’re talking about Brock going to Iowa State. I think that timing is very important there.”

And the timing worked out on the Cyclones’ depth chart, too. Within a single month in 2018, senior Kyle Kempt got hurt and three-star 2017 recruit Zeb Noland got benched, setting the stage for Purdy’s breakout.

‘This quarterback is pretty fun’

“My main memory of early stage Brock Purdy at Iowa State was realizing, ‘Oh wait, Iowa State is winning some football games right now and this quarterback is pretty fun,'” said Alex Kirshner, a freelance writer and co-host of the SplitZone Duo College Football Podcast. “And neither of those things is necessarily normal if you’re familiar with the history of Iowa State football. He was an expectations-exceeder right off the bat.”

Coach Matt Campbell had just brought the program its first winning season in seven years. The Campbell-Purdy administration brought new heights: four bowls and a Fiesta Bowl win, breaking every school passing record along the way.

He did all of that while playing as what Hamm described as “a more souped up version of Brock” compared to his high school days. At his peak, he threw for 3,982 yards, 27 touchdowns and completed 312 of his 475 passes his sophomore season. Oh, and he also rushed for eight touchdowns too.

Brock Purdy was not a scorching prospect coming out of Ames.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

“Brock Purdy stayed solid and helped keep Iowa State in a pretty good place for his entire career,” Kirshner said. “He was an important component of what they did and he was very fun to watch because he played the sport with some abandon that was fun and made some cool plays and fun throws over the course of his career. I think he’s in the pantheon of enjoyable college quarterbacks who were a good time to have in the sport.”

Solid, enjoyable, a good time — complimentary, but not words you use to describe blue-chip NFL prospects. Purdy never matched the 2019 highs in his final two college seasons.

‘I have learned not to bet against Brock Purdy’

Hamm believes that “a bit of inconsistent play at the end of his college career” combined with his below-average height by NFL quarterback standards and low quarterback interest did Purdy no favors. Kirshner posited that the “wow throws” draft experts are looking for weren’t in the quarterback’s bag in college.

Chad Reuter, an NFL Media researcher and analyst, had a similar assessment. Purdy did not have “outstanding” arm strength, according to Reuter, and he sometimes tried to do too much. At the same time, he said Purdy had “good tools,” “all the statistical things you want,” and called the rookie “obviously a leader.” Starting all four years of his college career didn’t hurt either.

Reuter would list Purdy as a sixth-rounder in his final 2022 mock draft. Although he wasn’t far off, he said he felt “badly” about it after initially thinking of the Cyclone as a fourth- or fifth-rounder. He was “a little surprised” to see Purdy fall so far, although he explained that there was a general bear market on quarterbacks, leading to players like Purdy being available slightly later than expected.

Brock Purdy's 49ers career has started with his hair on fire.

Brock Purdy’s 49ers career has started with his hair on fire.

Steph Chambers/Getty Images

What he’s less surprised about is how Purdy has played in the league. Even though Reuter doesn’t want to make a sweeping take through just two complete games, the play seems consistent with what he saw in Purdy’s college tape.

“You saw the good things that he did, throwing at different arm angles trying to get the ball to them,” Reuter said, speaking after the win in Seattle. “You also saw him throwing behind receivers, throwing into double coverage. … I think he has the ability to see that when a big play is to be made, he can make it, and I think that’s something that’s overlooked a lot in quarterback ability, which is, can a guy make big plays, as opposed to looking at his footwork and all the physical tools and everything else? And he’ll do that.”

Reuter is humble enough to admit that this isn’t exactly all expected.

“If this wasn’t a surprise at some point, 31 teams wouldn’t have passed on him in all seven rounds and the 49ers would have taken him sooner,” Reuter said.

Every person interviewed for this story mentioned the Kyle Shanahan factor.

Hamm called the Niners’ play-caller “an absolute wizard.” Shanahan would be among Kirshner’s top choices “if I were an NFL quarterback prospect and looking for a coach who would help me get the best qualities out of myself while adjusting to the NFL in a much higher level of competition.” Reuter listed Shanahan alongside a running game that Christian McCaffrey leads and a great defense as “a lot of things going his way right now.”

Add in a stacked supporting cast and Purdy’s “ballsy” approach, and you get three straight wins and a ton of excitement for the young third-stringer. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Purdy, who currently leads all rookie quarterbacks in touchdown passes, will start a playoff game.

It’s also guaranteed that the good times won’t last forever. Even beyond the mistakes he made against Seattle — ones that were greatly minimized by mistakes the Seahawks made in return, like Quandre Diggs’ dropped pick — teams will naturally only get more tape on Purdy the more he plays.

But this is Brock Purdy. He waited out a lack of interest and a rule change to get to Iowa State. He overcame two straight bowl game losses to bring the Cyclones their biggest bowl win in program history. He overcame being the last pick in the draft to make it onto an NFL roster. Hell, he overcame an embarrassing missed handoff on national television to become the calm, cool and collected leader of this Niners offense. And he did it all playing like Brock Purdy.

“I have learned not to bet against Brock Purdy when he gets an opportunity,” Hamm said.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 3:10 pm, Dec. 21 to correct the location of Perry High School.

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