On the NFL team scouting report, the most eye-catching information of all the categories was in the box listed for final grade. It simply read two words in all caps.
This was the write-up for one NFL team last spring when it evaluated Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy. In fairness, that NFL organization probably shouldn’t feel too bad in its evaluation. Purdy almost went undrafted in 2022, lasting until the final pick in the draft, No. 262 overall. Yet the former Iowa State star is now just one game away from leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. This weekend he will become only the fifth rookie quarterback to start a conference title game, and none of the previous four were able to help their team make it to the Super Bowl.
Purdy’s rise from being selected as “Mr. Irrelevant” has been one of the most remarkable stories of the NFL season. The Athletic reviewed a pre-draft scouting report from an NFL team to explore why the four-year college starting quarterback lasted so long in the draft, then spoke to the coach who wrote that report and asked, on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons, what he sees in Purdy now, what other teams might have overlooked and why the 23-year-old has been such an ideal fit for the 49ers.
The book on Purdy last spring was of a prospect with less-than-ideal size, at 6-0 1/2 and 212 pounds. His hand size also less than ideal: 9 1/4 inches. The athleticism he displayed at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine also didn’t impress. He ran a 4.84 40 and vertical jumped 27 inches. In his report, the coach wrote, “Did not test well, limited athlete that has a maxed out body. Very mature and experienced. Threw it ok.”
The strengths for Purdy were that he was “VERY” experienced with 48 college starts and that he manages the game well, making the routine plays consistently. He was creative as the play extends and “works through his progressions very well.”
The weaknesses: “sawed off … not a very good athlete … limited arm, both in strength and throw repertoire.”
It took a series of injuries for Purdy to get his opportunity this season in San Francisco. In Week 2, the 49ers lost starter Trey Lance to a broken ankle. Then, in early December, Jimmy Garoppolo injured his foot and San Francisco turned to Purdy. He has been terrific, posting a 13-to-4 TD-INT ratio, while completing 67 percent of his passes for a 107.3 rating, which is almost two points higher than any QB in the NFL who had enough attempts to qualify. More impressively, Purdy is now 7-0 as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
The NFL coach who wrote the scouting report said Monday, “The biggest thing that stood out differently than from his college film, and (49ers GM) John Lynch actually said it a few weeks ago, is his athleticism. I don’t remember him moving like that at Iowa State, and he didn’t test well. He jumped 27 inches, which is terrible. He ran a 4.85 (4.84). He’s got short arms, like really short, and he’s got small hands. He’s 6-1, and his arm is OK. The twitchiness just wasn’t really there. His short shuttle was OK —4.45 — that’s not outstanding.
“There feels like there’s two or three of those guys every year, who’ve played a ton in college. They produced and know the playbook in and out but are just physically limited. They play so much and so you get a really good look at what they can’t do, where sometimes it helps guys that don’t play that much because their warts don’t show up as much.”
Evaluating college quarterbacks has always been particularly vexing for the NFL. One school of thought, the coach said, is if you’re going to take a QB in the first round, he needs to be elite at one thing. “That was the whole debate with Mac Jones,” he said. “What’s his one thing that he’s really great at? Well, he processes very well, and he’s really accurate, which is hard to see physically. That was a thing with Joe Burrow (when he was coming out of LSU) until everyone ended up coming around on him. Joe’s fast but not really fast. His arm’s good, not great. But it was, Hey, he’s just a baller. The guy is really, really good at quarterback. When it comes to that ‘it factor,’ It’s just oozing out him.”
Purdy had been an effective runner at Iowa State, rushing for 19 touchdowns and almost 1,200 yards in his career, but there was a lot of concern about how well his wheels would translate at the next level. “The requirement to juke people and outrun people in college is a lot lower than it is in the NFL,” the NFL coach said. “You saw that with Zach Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow — guys that looked fast in college, but they’re just not fast enough in the NFL. In college, they might be able to outrun that D-end or pull away from that linebacker, but they got hawked down in the NFL. But Purdy has kinda maintained that and almost surpassed his level of agility in the NFL. I wonder what he did in the offseason (to get ready for the NFL).”
Purdy ran a 4.84 40-yard dash at the 2022 combine. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)
The coach said Purdy’s offense at Iowa State features a lot of runs, Q-reads and RPOs, but there wasn’t a lot of true drop-back passing like what scouts saw from Burrow or Jones. In the 49ers’ games against Tampa Bay, Washington and Seattle in particular, the coach said, Purdy displayed some wiggle, lateral quickness and agility that he had not seen before he made it to the NFL. The Cowboys, who are really athletic up front on defense, corralled Purdy the best that anybody has so far in the NFL, he said.
“But,” said the coach, “what I think is really making him successful is he is processing a lot of information pre-snap because they do a lot of motion, shifts, kills, alerts in that offense. It can be hard to just snap the ball and know which way to hand the ball off. His composure late in the down — he has not made very many boneheaded mistakes — has really been impressive. He did have one (Sunday) when he threw the ball away and almost ended the half and you could see Kyle (Shanahan) MF-ing him under the call sheet for a good 10 seconds. Those plays have not shown up a lot.”
Asked where he thinks Purdy would be drafted now based on what he’s shown this year, the coach said probably second or third round.
“We undervalued his agility and probably the mental side, and San Francisco is perfect for it because they put a lot of importance on that because of their offense,” he said. “In San Francisco, he can operate and play-action and boot and screen and manage the game. It’s not like he’s playing in a system like in Buffalo where the Bills are relying on Josh Allen sitting back and just hucking the ball all over the field, where it’s like, ‘Good Lord, how are you making those throws?’”
“In San Francisco, they don’t rely on the quarterback’s production as much as most teams. It also helps that they have the best left tackle, one of the best tight ends, one of the best running backs, one of the best wide receivers and a really good defense — they are loaded around him.”
The coach is eager to see how Purdy handles facing the Eagles in the NFC Championship. “Philly does a lot to challenge you one-on-one,\ where he’s gonna have to make some tough throws — it’s a lot of five-man rush, a lot of read-trap coverages — it can make it hard on the quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see how they attack it, especially if they can’t run it the way they want to.”
(Top photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)