One team’s NFL Draft scouting report on Brock Purdy shows how he became ‘Mr. Irrelevant’

On the NFL team scouting report, the most eye-catching information of all the categories was in the box listed for the final grade. It simply reads two words in all caps.


That was the script 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 about its evaluation. Purdy almost went undrafted in 2022, lasting until the final pick in the draft, No. 262 overall. But 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 reach the Super Bowl.

Purdy’s rise from being chosen as “Mr. Irrelevant” was one of the most remarkable stories of the NFL season. The Athletic review a pre-draft scouting report from an NFL team to explore why the four-year college starting quarterback went long in the draft, then talk to the coach who wrote that ir -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 player was such an ideal fit for the 49ers.

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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 is also less than ideal: 9 1/4 inches. The athleticism he showed at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine didn’t impress either. He ran a 4.84 40 and vertical jumped 27 inches. In his report, the coach wrote, “He didn’t test well, a limited athlete who has a maxed out body. Very mature and experienced. Throw it ok.”

The strengths for Purdy were that he was “VERY” experienced with 48 college starts and that he manages the game well, making routine plays consistently. He was creative as the play extended and “works very well in his progressions.”

Weaknesses: “serrated … not a very good athlete … limited arm, both in strength and throwing repertoire.”

it goes deeper

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 leg and San Francisco turned to Purdy. He was terrific, posting a 13-to-4 TD-INT ratio, while completing 67 percent of his passes for a 107.3 rating, which is nearly 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.

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The NFL coach who wrote the scouting report said Monday, “The biggest thing that stood out differently from his college film, and (49ers GM) John Lynch actually said it a little weeks ago, it’s 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 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 good. The twitchiness just wasn’t there. His short shuttle was OK —4.45 — which is not outstanding.

“There’s like two or three of those guys every year, who played a ton in college. They have produced and know the playbook inside and out but they are just physically limited. They play a lot and so you get a really good look at what they can’t do, where sometimes it helps guys who don’t play much because their warts aren’t that visible.”

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? Also, it processes very well, and is really accurate, which is difficult to see physically. That was something with Joe Burrow (when he was coming out of LSU) until everyone ended up turning on him. Joe’s fast but not really fast. His arm is good, not great. But he was, Hey, he’s just a baller. The guy is really, really good at quarterback. As far as ‘this factor’ is concerned, He just lacks it.”

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Purdy was an effective runner at Iowa State, rushing for 19 touchdowns and nearly 1,200 yards in his career, but there were many concerns about how well his wheels would translate at the next level. “The requirement that people juke and jump people in college is a lot less than it is in the NFL,” the NFL coach said. “I saw that with Zach Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow — guys who looked fast in college, but just aren’t fast enough in the NFL. In college, they might be able to beat that D-end or pull away from that linebacker, but they got hawked in the NFL. But Purdy kinda kept it up and almost surpassed his NFL agility level. I wonder what he did in the offseason (to prepare 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 hasn’t been much of a true drop-back pass like what scouts have seen from Burrow or Jones . In the 49ers’ games against Tampa Bay, Washington and Seattle in particular, the coach said, Purdy showed some wiggle, lateral quickness and agility that he hadn’t seen before in the NFL. The Cowboys, who are really athletic up front on defense, matched Purdy the best anyone has so far in the NFL, he said.

“But,” said the coach, “what I think is really making him successful is that he is processing a lot of information pre-snap because they do a lot of movement, shifts, kills, alerts in that offense. It can be difficult to just catch the ball and know which way to pass the ball. His composure late down the stretch — he didn’t make too many head mistakes — was really impressive. He had 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 games were not seen very much.”

Asked where he thinks Purdy will be drafted now based on what he has shown this year, the coach said probably the second or third round.

“We underestimated his agility and probably the mental side, and San Francisco is perfect for him 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 guard and run the game. It’s not like he’s playing in a system like in Buffalo where the Bills are relying on Josh Allen sitting and just catching 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 quarterback 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’re 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 going to have to make some tough throws — it’s a lot of five-man rushes, a lot of read-trap coverages — it can make it difficult on the quarterback.” It will be interesting to see how they attack him, especially if they can’t run it the way they want.”

(Top photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)


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