Can Brock Purdy make the 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams a reality?

Brock Purdy took the NFL by storm during the latter half of the season. The last pick in the NFL Draft hit the ground running in December, and didn’t lose a start in a game where he finished.

Purdy took over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, but their numbers were eerily similar to each other. Both players averaged around seven yards per attempt and completed about 67 percent of their passes. Jimmy G was known for his quick release and efficiency numbers. Brock put up numbers that rivaled the best quarterbacks in the league.

Purdy’s DVOA was the sixth best for any rookie quarterback … ever. From Week 13 on, Purdy was fourth in the NFL in adjusted EPA per play and eighth in success rate. Oh, and no quarterback threw more touchdowns during that span.

The success of the rookie quarterback, whether statistical or on the field, gave the 49ers enough confidence to name Purdy the starter for the 2023 season. Despite their previous investment in Trey Lance, Purdy proved he can run Kyle Shanahan’s offense the way he wanted.

There was no drop-off with Mr. Irrelevant under center. But — there’s always a but — how much of what we saw in 2022 was due to a limited sample size? Purdy only played 380 snaps. He didn’t face a top-10 passing defense, and only had to play on the road in two games.

During both road starts, Purdy combined for three turnover-worthy plays, per PFF. Outside of his Dolphins starts, those were also his two lowest yards per attempt games. Plus, he saw his completion percentage dip on the road.

None of this should come as a surprise, but it’s worth noting since the 49ers will see a few stingy defenses on the highway this year, especially later on in the season.

It’s difficult to imagine any quarterback struggling with the options on the 49ers. Look to your right, and you see Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. Then, on your left, it’s Deebo Samuel. If each of those options are covered, you can check the ball down to Christian McCaffrey. You can make the defense wrong, even if they’re initially right.

It’s easy to envision Purdy coming back down to earth in 2023, but a sophomore slump may be a bit much on this roster.

Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott is probably the closest example we have in recent memory to a second-year slump for a quarterback after an extraordinary first year. He was a Day 3 rookie QB who took over a loaded roster and excelled.

Then, in Year 2, Prescott’s completion percentage dropped five points, he threw for over 300 fewer yards, despite having 30 more attempts. Prescott’s yards per attempt dropped nearly a yard and a half, and he went from throwing four interceptions as a rookie to 13 during his second season. Dallas won 13 games in 2016, and nine in 2017.

The not-so-quiet confidence in Purdy from the 49ers organization would lead you to believe he’s here to stay. Brock didn’t play like your typical wide-eyed rookie quarterback. The moment was never too big for him.

In his first start, Shanahan called for Purdy to dropback 40 times. You don’t put that much on a rookie’s plate if he doesn’t know where to go with the football. Purdy was decisive with the football, as evidenced by him being tied for sixth — with Kirk Cousins — in average time to throw from Weeks 13-18.

One area where Purdy will be tested more in Year 2 is under pressure. There were plenty of encouraging signs from Purdy as a rookie under fire. He had the sixth-lowest turnover worthy play percentage among qualifying quarterbacks with the seventh-highest completion percentage.

On the flipside, only Jared Goff had a lower average depth of target and Purdy was in the top-10 for sacks, despite having the tenth fewest dropbacks under pressure.

You’re going to struggle if you’re looking at Purdy’s numbers and play from his rookie year and looking to poke holes in his game moving forward. Purdy has enough creativity and athleticism to offset the pressure he faced.

Obviously, you don’t want your quarterback to have to consistently rely on his scrambling ability over the course of a game, let alone a season. Purdy showed he’s capable of escaping from pressure just enough. And despite having so few dropbacks as a starter, 16 of his 23 completions under pressure went for first downs.

There isn’t enough data available to suggest a sophomore slump. Regression? That feels inevitable. But Purdy’s supporting cast, play-caller, and strengths in a Shanahan offense will have his greatest naysayers believing in him sooner than later.

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