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The San Francisco 49ers are back in the Super Bowl, primed for a rematch with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. This time, it won’t be Jimmy Garoppolo calling the shots. It is Brock Purdy, the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, who will line up under center for the Niners.

A fabled ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ from Iowa State, Purdy has quickly ascended the ranks at his position. It’s hard not to consider the 24-year-old one of the best QBs in the NFL, period. He put together MVP numbers in the regular season — 69.4 percent completion rate with 4,280 yards, 31 touchdowns, 11 interceptions — and now he’s in the Super Bowl.

There is a small collection of unimpeachable names atop the NFL QB rankings, starting with Patrick Mahomes and extending to Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Lamar Jackson. From there, however, the water gets rather murky, and it’s not clear just how close to the surface Purdy currently floats. What we do know, however, is that Purdy’s résumé can outstrip 90 percent of the players at his position, and he only just started.

One simple stat tells the story.

Year in NFL/SB Appearances:
Josh Allen: 6/0
Lamar Jackson: 6/0
Dak Prescott: 8/0
Brock Purdy: 2/1 #49ers

— MAC (@the_ag_fox_1971) January 29, 2024

Brock Purdy’s Super Bowl berth puts him in rare company

It’s easy to forget just how difficult it is to make the Super Bowl. For years, the AFC championship oscillated between two teams and two Hall of Fame QBs — Tom Brady’s Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Colts. The mere mortals who do get to the Super Bowl don’t always win. Purdy faces a steep challenge on Feb. 11. He is going up against the NFL’s No. 2 defense and an opposing QB that is on track for the G.O.A.T. conversation.

Still, just to get to the Super Bowl so quickly is a major accomplishment for Purdy. He was right on the doorstep as a rookie, too, derailed only by an untimely shoulder injury in the NFC Championship Game. Purdy has been the orchestrator of the NFL’s most balanced, potent offense for the better part of two years. He deserves his flowers.

There is much more to elite QB play than Super Bowl appearances. Purdy is not better than Jackson, for example. I don’t really care about Sunday’s divergent outcomes. Purdy probably shouldn’t get the nod over C.J. Stroud or Justin Herbert, neither of whom have meaningful postseason experience under their belt. Jalen Hurts? He still gets the upper hand, too.

What is not fair, however, is the persistent “game manager” narrative tied to Purdy. No matter how elite the supporting cast, it’s impossible to reach back-to-back conference championship games with mediocre QB play. If Purdy isn’t elite, he is at least knocking on the door. For every maddening mistake, he throws a one-of-one dart that makes you question all your preconceived notions about inexperienced QBs on the NFL’s most daunting stage. Purdy is built for the moment. We have rather unequivocal proof on that front.

Purdy led the biggest championship-round comeback in league history on Sunday. The Niners went 27-0 in the second half before the Lions’ last-second touchdown, which did nothing to change the final outcome. Purdy completed 20-of-31 passes for 267 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. It wasn’t a perfect game, but he was efficient and clutch. Those are generally traits of the most successful postseason QBs.

Now, let’s be honest. Would Lamar Jackson have a Super Bowl appearance in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, with the 49ers’ current collection of supporting talent? We can safely assume the answer is at least “probably,” if not definitely. We can make similar cases for Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, and several other QBs. This one stat alone does not inherently prove Purdy’s greatness. It does, however, prove his poise. It’s also an immovable milestone on his résumé. When push comes to shove, the NFL greats are graded on their tangible merits more than anything else. Purdy has a head start on virtually the entire league in that regard.

He still has to show up and perform in the Super Bowl a couple weeks from now, which will undoubtedly serve as the sophomore’s toughest challenge to date. Based on what we have seen so far, however, there’s reason to believe Purdy can string together the necessary drives to keep San Francisco in the mix.

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