General manager John Lynch is a candidate to win the 2022 NFL Executive of the Year award, with the 49ers' midseason blockbuster trade for star running back Christian McCaffrey grabbing headlines as the biggest swing on his resume. The 49ers haven’t lost since McCaffrey played his first full game in red and gold Oct. 30 against the Los Angels Rams.
But the 49ers surviving not one, but two season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo and still positioning themselves to host multiple playoff games at Levi’s Stadium is perhaps the greatest testament to Lynch's roster construction. Selecting Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy with the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, a move that seemed insignificant at the time, saved the team's season.
San Francisco taking a flyer on the Iowa State product didn't come out of nowhere. The 49ers’ interest in Purdy dates back before he even declared for the draft.
Lynch credits 49ers scout Steve Slowik for first putting his eyes on Purdy during his junior year at Iowa State. San Francisco actually had higher grades on Purdy entering the 2021 NFL Draft before he decided to return to the Cyclones for a fourth season.
“That [Iowa State] program really ascended out of nowhere,” Lynch said Thursday on KNBR. “A lot of people credited [head coach] Matt Campbell. If you ask Matt Campbell, as much as anyone he would credit Brock Purdy."
Purdy threw for 3,188 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games as a senior and, once again, found himself as the topic of conversation in Santa Clara as the 49ers began their pre-draft process.
“I remember [coach] Kyle [Shanahan] saying early, ‘Look, we’ve got Trey [Lance]. But I’d like to get another young quarterback just to add into the mix. Let’s try to identify one later,' " Lynch said.
The primary duty to scout late-round signal-callers was given to new quarterbacks coach Brian Griese and his assistant, Klay Kubiak.
“They probably took a bucket of eight, nine guys and came out very convicted that Brock Purdy was a guy they wanted to work with, whether it be draft him late or as a priority [undrafted] free agent,” Lynch said.
The 49ers didn’t own a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft due to their trade up to the No. 3 overall pick to select Lance the year prior. They cruised through the first six rounds of the draft addressing needs on the roster such as defensive back and offensive line, and found themselves on the clock at No. 262 overall, the final pick of the draft. The 49ers would get to name a new Mr. Irrelevant for the fourth time in franchise history.
“As we got down to the end [of the draft], you start actually calling these free agents before the draft is over: ‘If you don’t get drafted, we would love the opportunity to work with you as a free agent.’ You’re really recruiting. That’s where it was with Brock. We had gone through our checklist of what we wanted on our roster, needed on our roster.
“So, we got there to Mr. Irrelevant and we all looked at each other and said, ‘Why chance it? We really like Brock.’
“By this time, Griese and Kubiak had done a lot of work with him via [Zoom meetings], and just like Steve Slowik, had become convicted via the talks with Matt Campbell. … We said. ‘Alright, let’s not leave it to chance.’ I know the Mr. Irrelevant [nickname] is cute and all that but let’s make him part of us.
“Man, I’m sure glad we did.”
Nine months later, Purdy, the ninth quarterback off the board, is preparing for a postseason run. Purdy enters the playoff bracket with high expectations after winning all six games he played after taking over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 4 against the Miami Dolphins.
The rise of Mr. Irrelevant already is one of the best stories in football this season. But if he makes some noise in the playoffs, the script is almost too good for Hollywood.