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49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy is pretty relevant these days

The 22-year-old rookie from Iowa State, taken last in the draft, faces Tom Brady and the Bucs this weekend.
Published Dec. 8, 2022|Updated Dec. 10, 2022

TAMPA — There is no more consequential player to make your first NFL start against than Tom Brady.

That makes 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, selected with final pick of the 2022 NFL draft, the least irrelevant Mr. Irrelevant of all-time.

The dubious distinction is given to the player chosen last each year in the draft, then honored at a festival in Newport Beach, California, a tribute for the trivial.

Brady’s homecoming opponent Sunday was supposed to be 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But he fractured his foot and likely is lost for the season. Starter Trey Lance broke his ankle in Week 2.

So the 49ers turned to Purdy, who responded by passing for 210 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-17 win over the Dolphins last Sunday.

Facing Brady, the prodigal son returning to the Bay area not far from where he grew up in San Mateo, could shake the facemask off any first-year quarterback.

“I think it’s really cool,” Purdy said following Sunday’s game. “Dude’s been playing football longer than I’ve been alive, so yeah, to have a first start against the GOAT, it’s going to be pretty cool. But just any other game, man, it’s got to be efficient, do my thing, and play football.”

The buzzword you hear most to describe Purdy is “moxie,” a confidence developed in four years as a starter at Iowa State.

“He’s a dangerous guy because he can run and he can throw the ball,” coach Todd Bowles said. “It looks like he plays a lot better when you speed him up. He plays even smarter and even faster. He does a good job and he’s got a lot of weapons around him. He practices against a great defense every day so I’m sure he’ll be ready.”

Brock Purdy (13) celebrates with offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill (60) after a touchdown in the third quarter against Miami.
Brock Purdy (13) celebrates with offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill (60) after a touchdown in the third quarter against Miami. [ LACHLAN CUNNINGHAM | AP ]

Since Bowles took command of the Bucs defense in 2019, Tampa Bay has won six of its last seven games against rookie starting quarterbacks and is 6-2 overall in that span. The only defeats: a 32-31 loss to Daniel Jones (making his first career NFL start) and the Giants on Sept. 22, 2019, when Matt Gay missed a 34-yard field goal on the final play; and a 20-18 loss to the Steelers and rookie Kenny Pickett this year. (That Steelers loss gets an asterisk, however. Pickett was injured after he was knocked to the ground by Devin White and checked for a concussion. Mitch Trubisky threw the game-winning touchdown pass.)

Brady, meanwhile, is 24-5 against rookie quarterbacks and had won 12 straight until the loss to the Steelers.

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Of course, the Bucs also have losses this season to lesser-regarded quarterbacks such as Carolina’s P.J. Walker and the Browns’ Jacoby Brissett.

As Bowles knows, the Bucs’ task is as much stopping the 49ers offense with players such as Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, who can challenge you in different ways. More than attacking the rookie quarterback, it’s a matchup game, according to safety Logan Ryan.

“They have players that have versatile options and they try to find the matchup to pick on or try to exploit,” Ryan said. “...Myself, (Antoine) Winfield, Keanu Neal have played multiple positions; Devin (White) is extremely versatile. ... Lavonte (David) is great, so when you have players like that, that’s where the chess match comes with Bowles against (Kyle) Shanahan.”

Sunday’s game will be a battle between two of the league’s best defenses. The 49ers rank first in scoring defense, allowing only 15.8 points per game while the Bucs are fifth at 18.25.

“He’s got a huge challenge,” Shanahan said of Purdy. “Todd (Bowles) alone, but also the talent they have over there. They stop the run as good as anybody in this league. They’ve been doing that for a number of years. They’re extremely good in their coverages because they can do anything that they want. They’re good in man (coverage), they have all the blitzes, so Todd’s probably going to throw everything at us and what works, he’ll keep doing it until we figure out how to do it better back.”

One of the things working in Purdy’s favor is that he was a four-year starter at Iowa State, playing in 48 games and passing for 12,171 yards and 81 touchdowns. That kind of experience, coupled with competing against the league’s best defense in practice every day as the 49ers’ scout team quarterback, has sharpened him.

“He went right into the game and didn’t miss a beat,” Bucs co-defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “They didn’t change the offense, so that says a lot. ... (He) got his playmakers the ball.”

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