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(This story, originally published on Dec. 15, was updated on Jan. 26)

When Brock Purdy entered in the closing minutes of the 49ers’ blowout loss to the Chiefs on Oct. 23, he made history. All he had to do was hit a receiver.

On his first play, Purdy found Ray-Ray McCloud III over the middle of the field for a crisp 20-yard connection, making Purdy the first-ever Mr. Irrelevant to complete a forward pass.

Since that historic mop-up duty performance, Purdy has shined in far more important spots. Sunday’s win over Dallas in the divisional round marked his eighth straight win as San Francisco’s primary quarterback, including the week he entered for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo.

Of the 66 quarterbacks drafted since 2017, the only signal caller to start more playoff wins have been Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. In the last two drafts, only one — Trevor Lawrence — of the 19 selected quarterbacks has won a single playoff game.

The difference between Purdy and the group of Lawrence, Burrow, Allen and Mahomes? The latter four were top-10 picks. Purdy was No. 262, the final name called.


The rise of Brock Purdy: How the 49ers’ unlikely leader was ready for the job

History of Mr. Irrelevant

Mr. Irrelevant is an honor unlike any other. Day 3 of the NFL Draft, where picks in rounds four to seven are made, is typically reserved for team executives, the most diehard of fans and families or supporters of the draftees themselves.

Except for one pick, the very last one. That player is bestowed one of the strangest honors in all of sports: Mr. Irrelevant.

The NFL Draft is older than the microwave oven, but in its 86 years since 1936, extremely few final picks have found their way onto the field, let alone in a starring role.

The history of honoring the final pick goes back to 1976, when former receiver Paul Salata founded a week-long event called “Irrelevant Week” to honor the final pick with a week of festivities including a trip to Disneyland, a golf tournament, a regatta, a roast and a banquet to bestow the pick with the Lowsman Trophy. The Lowsman Trophy is a satirical bust of the Heisman Trophy, but depicts a player fumbling the ball.

After just a few years, “Irrelevant Week” became so beloved in 1979 that the Rams and Steelers, the two teams with the final two picks in the 1979 draft, wanted the publicity that came with the event and each refused to make the penultimate pick. After continual refusal, commissioner Pete Rozelle had to step in and the league later instituted a rule prohibiting teams from passing to get the final pick, known as the “Salata Rule.”

Notable Mr. Irrelevants

Since Phil Flanagan became the final pick of that 1936 draft and Kelvin Kirk became the first recognized Mr. Irrelevant in 1976, very few final picks have made enough of a dent in the league to etch their names into the history books.

In 1967, Jimmy Walker was picked with the last selection despite never playing college football. Rather, he was the nation’s leading basketball scorer at Providence and would go on to be the first pick of the 1967 NBA Draft.

In 1948, Bill Fischer was drafted by the Cardinals with the last pick, but opted to stay in college. That year, he won the Outland Trophy for top interior lineman and would reenter the following year’s draft. He would be the very first pick in the 1949 NFL Draft, again by the Cardinals, and wound up becoming the first Mr. Irrelevant to make a Pro Bowl.

Tyrone McGriff, 1980’s Mr. Irrelevant, would make the NFL All-Rookie team, 1994’s Marty Moore became the first Mr. Irrelevant to win a Super Bowl and 2017’s Chad Kelly became the first Mr. Irrelevant quarterback to play a snap in a regular-season game.

The most-decorated Mr. Irrelevant in history is a kicker, Ryan Succop. The final pick of the 2009 draft is still active, kicking for Tampa Bay after spending five years in Kansas City and six years in Tennessee. He holds the NFL records for the highest field goal percentage by a rookie and most consecutive kicks made from within 50 yards, along with the Chiefs’ records for made field goals by a rookie and most in a single game. He also broke the Buccaneers’ single-season point record in 2020.

Other impact-making Mr. Irrelevants include 2020’s Tae Crowder, who has earned a starting job with the Giants, and 2000’s Michael Green, who was a consistent starter for the Bears’ strong defenses.

(Photo of Ryan Succop, another successful Mr. Irrelevant: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)

Purdy’s case

Succop finished his 14th season in 2022, hitting 30-plus field goals for the seventh time in his career. He ranks 29th in NFL history with 320 made field goals and 35th all-time with 470 extra points made. It’s about as great of a career as a Mr. Irrelevant can have.

But when factoring in the importance of the quarterback position, the difficulty of Purdy’s scenario and the immediate success he has found, it’s become hard to argue that anyone else deserves the crown of greatest Mr. Irrelevant.

The evidence began in that game against the Chiefs and the historic completion to McCloud. It escalated five weeks later when Purdy would enter for Garoppolo and immediately lead the 49ers on a nine-play touchdown drive, punctuated by the first passing touchdown thrown by a Mr. Irrelevant. One quarter later, he’d throw his second touchdown, eventually leading San Francisco to a win over the then-streaking Miami Dolphins.

Purdy’s encore the next week was even more impressive. Face-to-face with Tom Brady, Purdy looked like the more-accomplished quarterback amid a 185-yard performance. Most impressively, it resulted in a 35-7 San Francisco victory, making Purdy the first quarterback to ever beat Brady in his first start.


Here’s why Brock Purdy is 49ers’ unquestioned QB1 into the future

The next four regular-season starts followed a similar script — play efficient football, allow coach Kyle Shanahan to get aggressive with the playcalling and walk out with a win. He hit the playoffs with regular season totals of 1,374 yards, 13 passing touchdowns, a rushing score and just four interceptions in five starts. And not one loss.

Under the brighter lights of the playoffs against stingier defenses, Purdy’s play hasn’t hiccuped. He shredded Seattle in the wild-card round with 332 yards, three passing touchdowns and another rushing score, becoming the first rookie in NFL postseason history to throw at least three touchdowns and rush for another in the same game.

Against Dallas in the divisional round, he outplayed the Cowboys’ handsomely-paid Dak Prescott, producing another turnover-free game to go with 214 passing yards. Prescott, meanwhile, tossed two picks.

Are Purdy’s total numbers of 16 touchdowns, eight wins and 1,920 passing yards more GOAT-worthy than Succop’s 14 years of high-level kicking? We’ll let you be the judge. But he’s got an undeniable case.

How Purdy got here

Purdy began his career at Iowa State in 2018 as a third-string freshman, but got his shot to start eight games that season thanks to injuries. Fitting.

After starting 46 games in four years and setting 32 school records in the process, Purdy found himself back in the third-string role with the 49ers behind starter Trey Lance and backup Nate Sudfeld, while the team was looking to trade Garoppolo.

While it was hard for analysts to form an opinion on Purdy as Lance and Sudfeld were getting the bulk of snaps, coaches were clearly impressed early on by Purdy’s mastery of the offense and aggressiveness.


Brock Purdy shows 49ers he can handle postseason adversity

“That was on display when he led a go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown drive in the first preseason game against the Packers. By the time the preseason ended, Purdy had surpassed Sudfeld and was in line to be the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback,” 49ers beat writer Matt Barrows said. “Garoppolo’s unexpected return initially bumped Purdy down to No. 3, of course, but Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers were perfectly comfortable with the rookie being the No. 2 quarterback after Lance was lost for the season in Week 2.”

Compared to Lance, Purdy is a veteran, and the 49ers treat him as such. In his four years with the Cyclones, Purdy compiled 1,461 collegiate pass attempts, over 1,100 more than Lance did in his 17 starts at North Dakota State.

“Shanahan has wanted to take Lance along as slowly as possible,” Barrows said. “He’s been comfortable throwing Purdy into the deep end.”

(Top photo: Michael Zagaris / Getty Images)