Finding the Next Brock Purdy (Fantasy Football)

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The purely speculative nature of this article is not suggesting success or lack thereof for any of these rookie QBs; it’s just an analysis of which first-season passers might have a situation that most closely mirrors Purdy’s, potentially leading to similar success.

Before Week 13 of the 2022 season, few people knew the name Brock Purdy. Sure, his teammates and fans from Iowa State knew the four-year college starter, and his San Francisco 49er teammates and ownership no doubt valued him enough to be a third-string backup. We knew him as Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick in the NFL draft. Purdy joined the hallowed irrelevant halls in 2022 – known in the same breath as Chad Kelly, Andy Stokes, and Tim Toone. Who? Exactly.

Very, “I’m just happy to be here at the party, Tony.”

But on December 4th, when Purdy took over for injured Jimmy Garoppolo – who had previously taken over for injured Trey Lance – he became much more than irrelevant. He led the team to a win over Miami, becoming the first Mr. Irrelevant to throw a TD pass in a regular season game. He was named the starter.

And he was good. 

In early December, Purdy became the only QB in his first career start to beat a team led by Tom Brady, and he became the second player in NFL history (after Aaron Rodgers) to have a QB rating of 115 or greater in his first two starts. The NFL recognized the rising star and named him the NFC Rookie of the Month for December and January. By the end of the regular season, Purdy had won all five of his starts, threw for almost 1,400 yards and thirteen TDs, and catapulted the 49ers to the second seed in the playoffs. Hopes were high in the Bay area, with fans rallying around the young man. However, in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Purdy injured his right elbow, and the magical season was over. He was later diagnosed with a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.

No one could have seen this coming. Brock Purdy probably couldn’t have seen this coming. It was the perfect marriage of talent, athleticism, system, coaching, Kittle, and opportunity that created Brock Purdy. And sure, currently, the QB room in San Francisco is in slight disarray due to Purdy’s injury timeline. Still, fans and fantasy owners assume we will see the same Purdy when he eventually heads back on the field sooner rather than later. The team seems to be his.

If you picked up Purdy at some point in the fantasy season, a massive congratulations, and I would love to see your copy of the Gray’s Sports Almanac that Biff gave you, but if you are like me, you were left shaking your head at the end of 2022, saying “how is this kid doing this, how could we not have seen this coming?”

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So how DO we see this coming? Can we? We cannot predict the future, but we can look at the college QBs from this draft class and try to pick apart their qualities to come up with a QB who could possibly do it again this season.

The next Brock Purdy

Fourteen QBs were taken in 2023, which ties for the second-highest total since 2013. The Brock Purdy effect seemed to be alive and well on draft weekend. I mean, a team can dream, right?

Here is a refresher on the QBs drafted in 2023:

Player Round Pick Team College
Bryce Young 1 1 Carolina Alabama
C.J. Stroud 1 2 Houston Ohio State
Anthony Richardson 1 4 Colts Florida
Will Levis 2 33 Titans Kentucky
Hendon Hooker 3 68 Lions Tennessee
Jake Haener 4 127 Saints Fresno State
Stetson Bennett 4 128 Rams Georgia
Aidan O’Connell 4 135 Raiders Purdue
Clayton Tune 4 139 Cardinals Houston
Dorian Thompson-Robinson 4 140 Browns UCLA
Sean Clifford 5 149 Packers Penn State
Jaren Hall 5 164 Vikings BYU
Tanner McKee 6 188 Eagles Stanford
Max Duggan 6 239 Chargers TCU

Before musing about who could be the next Brock Purdy, we must address the qualities that may have helped him flourish. These are the ones I am looking at for comparison:

  • Later-round draft pick
  • Similar physical build
  • Similar passing style
  • Significant college playing time
  • Drafted into a QB-friendly system with strong coaching
  • Playing behind a QB with a higher chance of going down

Requirement 1 – Not an early-round draft pick

This is a pretty easy caveat. These are the players out of the running: Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis.  These guys are QBs drafted to start immediately or within the next couple of years; the ownership has a clear plan for their career trajectory. I am going to remove Hendon Hooker from this section as well. Even though he was drafted in the third round, it seems that he will be Campbell’s long-term plan for QB once he is fully recovered from his torn ACL, as the twilight of Jared Goff’s starting career could be on the decline.

Requirement 2 – Similar physical build with a similar playing style

Purdy measures up at 6’1” and 220 pounds. The majority of the rookie QBs still in the mix are similar builds to Purdy – seven of the remaining nine are between 6′ and 6’3”, and most are just above 200 pounds as well. We can take Stanford’s Tanner McKee out of the mix, as he towers over the rest of the field at 6’6”. Even though he weighs in at 220, Purdy looks more svelte on the field, and throwing his “weight” around is not something he does while playing – he is not a running QB; last season, he rushed for thirteen yards. Thirteen. Purdy did run more in college – 238 yards his final year at Iowa State – but it is clear that he only chooses to do so when it is a pure necessity. Because of that quality, several rushing QBs drafted this year will be removed from the “Potential Purdy” list. 

Clayton Tune, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals (and actually stands a chance to start this year), is the first QB removed here. Tune ran for over 600 yards his final year at Houston, only running less than two other QBs on this list, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and Anthony Richardson. Relatively the same size as Purdy, Tune’s distribution of weight makes him visibly look like an entirely different type of QB.

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Another rushing QB I am removing from the list is Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the UCLA QB with 720 yards rushing and 11 TDs in his final year in Southern California. Weighing in less than Purdy, the mass wasn’t a requirement for DTR, who was a beast on the ground. If he ever has to step in for Deshaun Watson in Cleveland, he would undoubtedly demonstrate this quality on the NFL level. Along the same lines, I am eliminating Max Duggan here, another physically solid athlete with a solid running game.

Who do we have left?

Stetson Bennett, Jaren Hall, Aidan O’Connell, Sean Clifford, and Jake Haener.

Requirement 3 – Played significant time in college, preferably as a starter

Purdy played all four years in college, graduating with 48 games of college production experience under his belt and taking over as the starter his freshman year. In his first year at Iowa State, he started eight games and continued as the starter for his college tenure. This amount of experience proved vital to his confidence in running an NFL offense. You could see it on the field; Purdy rarely looked flustered, even when plays did not materialize. He was even cool and calm in post-game interviews.

All the remaining rookie QBs started at least 25 games in their college tenure. Jaren Hall is that low number, playing 31 games in college and starting 25 of those. I am going to toss him out.

Requirement 4 – Drafted into a predominantly QB-friendly system with strong coaching, along with a potential of starting QB going down 

Expectations are big here; being drafted into an air raid offense and expected to throw for 4,000 yards in their first year is not the kind of situation that will help this year’s Brock Purdy succeed. Purdy had the privilege of being drafted by San Francisco, a team that, under Jimmy G., ranked 28th in passing attempts among QBs last season. Garappolo threw for just over 2,400 yards in 2021 in 11 games. When you think heavy passing attack, you do not think of the 49ers. This is part of what set Purdy up for success – he was stepping in for a QB who did not run, a QB that wasn’t asked to chuck it down the field, in a system that greatly utilized their running attack and had a strong defense. Shananhan’s scheme relies much more on decision-making and strength between the ears than physical tools, which played perfectly in Purdy’s favor.

Another quality that expedited Purdy’s appearance as a starter was the propensity of injury in San Francisco. He was behind Trey Lance, whose career has been at a standstill because of injury, and Jimmy G., who is getting older and has missed many games due to a range of maladies.

Breaking down the four remaining rookie QBs to see who fits the best

These four remaining QBs were all drafted later, in the fourth or fifth round, and are all either 24 or 25. Purdy is currently 24. In addition, they all have similar build, style, and college experience leading an offense. Let’s look at the passing attack for the teams these guys were drafted into and who they will be supporting.

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Stetson Bennett – playing behind Matt Stafford for the Rams 

Stetson Bennett enters 2023 backing up (somewhat fragile) Matthew Stafford for the L.A. Rams. The Rams had a somewhat anomalous 2022 season, with Stafford only playing nine games and star WR1 Cooper Kupp also being sidelined with an injury.  The Rams had 531 passing attempts, putting them 24th in the league in 2022. The year previous, they had the 10th most passing attempts in the league. Needless to say, the Rams want to pass.

Clearly, the Rams sold the farm for a Super Bowl ring, and they will probably be entering a rebuilding season where Bennett could be at the helm sooner rather than later. Even though there is a less than zero chance that Stafford makes it through an entire season unscathed, the Sean McVay run offense is more pass-heavy than the Niners. So if we are going by the requirements to be the next Purdy, Bennett should be out of the running. There is also something about Bennett and his history – winning consistently at a big program school and consistently being in the limelight, leading the Georgia Bulldogs to two National Championships –  that makes you believe that he will be successful. Purdy had none of that coming into the league.

Sean Clifford – playing behind Jordan Love for the Packers

Sean Clifford heads to Green Bay to join a team led by another member of the Shanahan tree, Matt LaFleur. Clifford’s situation is the most unclear of the final four in that the QB he is backing up, Jordan Love, is not cemented to be the starter. Even though the Packers organization is behind Love as the starter, a world does exist where he could lose that job, and if he does, how close is Clifford to becoming Purdy-esque? Not much was talked about Clifford heading into draft season, even coming off of leading the Nittany Lions to an 11-2 record during his final year at Penn State. Clifford is built almost exactly like Purdy and played and started nearly the exact amount of games in college. Clifford has a little more rushing athleticism than Purdy, but in my opinion, he stands a good chance to have a similar career trajectory – if he can get out there. LaFleur and company have praised Clifford’s experience and decision-making ability. Even though Green Bays’ defense isn’t as strong as San Francisco’s – PFF graded the Packers 18th and the 49ers 2nd going into 2023 – Green Bays’ offensive line might be good enough to compensate and give Clifford the time he needs if he takes the field. 

Clifford looks to have some potential Purdy in him, but there is something about the confusion in Green Bay regarding the offensive attack this season that puts me off him. San Francisco and their play calling and support seem like a solid straight line, whereas Green Bay appears like they could be all over the place, good and bad, this season. And if Jordan Love is really that good, he has not had the continuous reps pounded on his body to make him a huge injury risk. Clifford might find himself on the bench for a long time if Love is truly the new franchise QB.

Aidan O’Connell – playing behind Jimmy G. for the Raiders

Aidan O’Connell comes into an incredibly similar situation to Purdy, literally backing up the same injury-prone QB. Sure, the city and scheme are different – the Raiders threw more than San Francisco last year, and they had the 11th highest amount of attempts – but they did have the home run hitter in Davante Adams. Josh Jacobs mirrors CMC with rushing and pass-catching ability (as long as he plays), so O’Connell would definitely have his safety net, and one would hope that McDaniels would tweak his system to play on Jimmy’s strength, so O’Connell might be in close to the exact situation Purdy found himself in.

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Jake Haener – playing behind Derek Carr for the Saints

Jake Haener was drafted the earliest of this final four and has a very similar build to Purdy. Weighing slightly less, Haener has demonstrated solid athleticism during his college career as well as at the Combine. Haener’s college numbers are extremely similar to Purdys, with his 72% completion rate in his final year being almost precisely that of Purdy his final year at Iowa State. Haener’s ability to go through his progressions and quickly process scream Purdy and his scouting reports that said things like “a solid backup with a lack of elite traits” is almost verbatim to what we saw for Brock pre-2022 draft.

The Saints were also less throw-heavy last year – ranking 27th in the league in pass attempts – which could bode well system-wise if Haener took the field. 

So who has the most Purdy potential?

After really breaking down what things came together to make Brock Purdy the Brock Purdy we saw in 2022 and looking at the incoming rookie QBs, two stick out to me to have the most potential to have a similar year if the cards fall right – Aidan O’Connell and Jake Haener.  It would be more difficult for Haener to get out there than these other final four – he would have to have both Carr and Jameis Winston be benched or injured, so for that reason, I lean more on the side of O’Connell as having a higher propensity for a Purdy play. Sure, there is Brian Hoyer behind Garoppolo, but Jimmy G. is much more injury prone than Carr, and Hoyer doesn’t get anyone excited. If the opportunity arose, I could see the coaching staff putting O’Connell out there.

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Nothing excites fans more than a success story that no one saw coming. Will we see another one in 2023? Only time will tell.

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