The title of ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ given to the last pick of the NFL draft, is one of the funniest yet humiliating names in football. This title has been handed out since Paul Salata, a wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts during the 1950s, came up with the idea for a publicity and charity event for football’s least important player in 1976. ‘Irrelevant Week’ has also been a tradition since then, with the Mr. Irrelevant of that year’s draft being the center of a week of ceremonies and parties, including a trip to Disney, a golf tournament, and the Lowsman Banquet. During this Banquet, Mr. Irrelevant receives the Lowsman Trophy. This cheeky award mimics the Heisman Trophy, but instead of showcasing a player powerfully stiff-arming an opponent, it showcases a wide-eyed player as he fumbles the football. Truth be told, Irrelevant Week is usually the most attention the last pick of the draft is ever given. But this isn’t the case with Brock Purdy, 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant, and the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback.
After the 49ers' first and second-string quarterbacks, Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppollo went down with injuries in Week Two and Week 13, the only man left in the quarterback room was the last guy anyone would have chosen for the job: Brock Purdy. In the first start of his career in Week 14, Purdy became the first Mr. Irrelevant to ever throw a forward pass in the NFL, and he hasn’t looked back. Since December, he has been slicing and dicing throughout the league, maintaining an undefeated record six games into his career, with five regular season wins, securing the NFC West title and his most recent victory against the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round taking the 49ers further in the playoffs.
While he has performed well, questions will always arise when a seventh-round draftee is at the center of a franchise. Is Brock Purdy the real deal? Can he continue his streak and take the 49ers past the second round of the playoffs? Can he pull his weight for the team?
he first thing to note is that this team may have the most complete roster in the league, aside from their quarterback. The 49ers are absolutely stacked defensively. Within the box, they are simply unrivaled. Edge rusher Nick Bosa has been a Pro-Bowler in each of his three seasons in the NFL, and this season has been his best yet, such as his 18.5 sacks on the season. Linebacker Fred Warner combines strong run-stopping ability with excellent pass coverage, making him the second-best linebacker in the league for yards allowed per coverage snap. Fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw isn’t too far behind in eleventh, making for an absolutely lights-out coverage duo in the middle of the field. Safety Talanoa Hufanga and cornerback Charvarius Ward maintain control over the secondary with a powerful grasp, with Ward having an extremely low missed tackle rating of just 5 percent. Altogether, the 49ers' defense is the best in the league, allowing the least points out of all thirty-two teams.
So Purdy has defensive backing in spades, but what about his own realm? What about his offense? Well, they aren’t lacking either. The offense has its own cast of powerhouses, including running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and offensive tackle Trent Williams. Williams holds the league's highest grade for run blocking, Kittle has second-best receiving grade of all tight ends, and Aiyuk is eighteenth out of one hundred twenty-three in the league as a receiver, while McCaffrey has proven himself as one of the most skilled and most versatile players in football. Purdy’s side of the field has plenty of weapons, but he still needs to pull the trigger. And pull the trigger he has.
Across his six regular season games (five starts and one partial game after Garoppolo was hurt), he maintained an average quarterback rating of 107.3, currently one of the bests in the NFL. His 3.25 regular season touchdown to interception ratio is the fifth-best in the league. He also had the highest touchdown percentage in the league. So his regular season was clearly high quality, and he was even better in the playoffs. This past Saturday against the Seahawks, Purdy had one of the best games of his life. He threw for three hundred thirty two yards and three touchdowns without an interception, with a rushing touchdown as well. This playoff performance puts him up there with the stat lines of Tom Brady in the ‘01 AFC Playoffs, one of the most notable playoff efforts of all time.
However, even in a game where he put up a monster stat line like that, he did show some flashes of weakness. In his first throw of the game, he loaded up to throw to a wide-open Deebo Samuel on a crossing route, but he overthrew the route by almost 10 yards, nearly leading to an interception. It should have been an easy throw to make, but he had just overdone it. Another throw to Jauan Jennings on a crossing route to the middle of the field was nearly picked off by a linebacker who Purdy must’ve not seen as he read the field. While it’s understandable for Purdy to be a little shaky in his first few throws in a playoff game, it is something that other teams will take note of and attempt to exploit.
Still, even with his few errors, the 49ers blew the Seahawks out 41-23, so what does it really matter if their quarterback had a couple of mistakes? The team itself was so strong that they were able make up for Purdy’s shakiness early in the game, and in the end, he played like an elite quarterback, making deep shots, fast reads, and good rollouts. Purdy is absolutely not deadweight on the 49ers.
The truth of the matter with the 49ers is that Purdy most likely is the weak link, but he still isn’t detrimental to the team’s success. They’ve surrounded Purdy with all the help a quarterback could ever want, and he’s responded well by stepping up to the challenge. A decent quarterback combined with an excellent offense and a league best defense will obviously yield great results. And on another level, Purdy appears from the outside to be a good teammate. He’s young, and highly successful, but not cocky. In all his interviews and interactions, he comes across as humble and grateful, and most of all, he’s just happy to be here. He’s the type of guy that a team will gather around. He’s new, he’s ready, and he’s excited. It’s Brock Purdy’s hour, and he won’t waste it.