How important is Brock Purdy to the San Francisco 49ers?

2T0RJ8D San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) passes against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Brock Purdy‘s rise: The Iowa State product went from Mr. Irrevlent to leading the San Francisco 49ers on a deep playoff run.

• Purdy's struggles: The 49ers' three-game losing streak has coincided with a dip in Purdy's production.

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

The San Francisco 49ers made a bold decision during the preseason when they decided to jettison quarterback Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys just two years after making him the third selection in the 2021 draft in favor of Brock Purdy. What makes Purdy’s status as “Mr. Irrelevant” even more “irrelevant” is that the 2022 NFL Draft had an unusually high number of picks at 262. The last time an NFL draft had at least 262 draft picks was 2003 (also 262), meaning in each of the 18 drafts held in between, Purdy would have gone undrafted.

Most of us are familiar with Purdy’s story, as it is eerily similar to the start of Tom Brady’s career: A decent but ultimately unimpressive college quarterback gets drafted late and is expected to be a backup before being thrust into the starting role due to an injury and going on a deep playoff run. While Brady’s breakout year ended with a Super Bowl win and Purdy’s ended with his UCL tearing in an NFC Championship loss, it became very clear that Purdy was the guy going forward to the point where the 49ers were comfortable flipping Lance despite all the assets dumped into him.

Expectations were high in San Francisco going into 2023 with Purdy at the helm and through their first five games, the 49ers looked unstoppable. They started 5-0 and scored at least 30 points in every game with Purdy, including a 42-10 whooping over the Cowboys, another team with Super Bowl aspirations. Purdy was particularly good in that outing, completing 18-of-28 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns to go along with three big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays en route to a career-best 85.5 passing grade.

However, the last three games have left a lot to be desired. The Cleveland Browns had an answer for seemingly everything the 49ers tried to throw at them, as they handed San Francisco its first loss of the season. Purdy did lead a potential game-winning drive, putting his team in position to win at the end only for it to end in a missed field goal. However, his overall numbers for that game were not impressive. Purdy went 13-of-32 for 131 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one big-time throw and three turnover-worthy plays, culminating in a 41.4 passing grade.

Things weren’t much better the following Monday against the Minnesota Vikings, as Purdy completed 21-of-30 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 61.9 passing grade in the loss.

His performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was a mixed bag, as Purdy completed 22-of-31 passes for a career-high 365 yards and a touchdown for a 66.1 passing grade. Unfortunately, he also threw two interceptions on back-to-back throws and had a third interception get called back due to a questionable roughing the passer penalty. He promptly lost a fumble on the following play, ending San Francisco’s comeback hopes as it dropped their third straight 31-17.

After losing three straight games following a 5-0 start, many are wondering if Purdy is actually a good quarterback, or if he’s just the product of a really talented 49ers roster. Purdy does have a very strong supporting cast, as Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey and Trent Williams all rate highly on offense while the 49ers defense currently features eight different players with 70.0-plus PFF grades. Samuel and Williams have missed time due to injury during the three-game losing streak, which has coincided with Purdy’s dip in production.

Some of Purdy's struggles have been masked by the talent around him. Even the five-game win streak to open the year featured some underwhelming performances, such as Weeks 2 and 3 against the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants where he put up 61.1 and 58.8 passing grades, respectively, despite the 49ers emerging victorious.

There’s an argument going around that Purdy mostly just throws screens and lets Samuel, McCaffrey and Aiyuk do the rest, but that’s not necessarily true. The 49ers have attempted 34 screen passes through Week 8, which is tied for 13th with the Los Angeles Rams. They’ve just been the most successful at executing them, as they lead the league in yards per attempt on screens at 9.6 (next closest is the Browns at 8.9 while the third-place Washington Commanders are at 7.9). They also lead the league with a .519 EPA/Play on screens, next highest being the Dolphins at .433.

Screens aren’t the main part of the 49ers’ offense, though, as Purdy airs the ball out just as much as any quarterback in the league. His 8.7-yard average depth of target is just a couple ticks lower than Josh Allen and Justin Herbert’s 8.9 and is considerably higher than Patrick Mahomes’ 8.0, Dak Prescott’s 7.9 and Joe Burrow’s 6.7. In fact, 55.8% of Purdy’s passing yards have come through the air, which is comparable to C.J. Stroud, (56.2), Jared Goff (56.0) and Tua Tagovailoa (54.1).

Purdy has come up with some big plays of his own, as he is tied with Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Derek Carr and Russell Wilson for the sixth-most big-time throws (14). Purdy even has more than Mahomes, Prescott and Herbert, so the argument that he just dumps the ball off to playmakers isn’t exactly true.

Purdy has also had some luck go his way. Despite the fact he’s thrown only six interceptions, he’s tied with Sam Howell for the forth most turnover-worthy plays with 14. Amongst the 11 quarterbacks with at least 10 turnover-worthy plays, only Trevor Lawrence and Herbert have fewer interceptions.

Putting all this together, Purdy has a 68.0 passing grade through Week 8, which ranks 20th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks, but a 55.1 grade during the 49ers’ three-game skid, 28th during that stretch. He’s by no means an elite quarterback, but he is capable of doing what needs to be done to win games for the 49ers. After the Seattle Seahawks' last-second victory over the Browns, the 49ers lost control of the division lead in the NFC West. With the losing streak, injuries and dip in Purdy’s production, this upcoming bye week cannot come soon enough.


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