Brock Purdy after 17 NFL starts: Stats, future for 49ers QB

Stephen A.: Jury still out on Brock Purdy (1:39)

Stephen A. Smith and Dan Orlovsky wonder whether the 49ers can rely on Brock Purdy to lead them to a Super Bowl. (1:39)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It hasn't quite been a year since Brock Purdy took over as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback. It has, however, been 17 games, which means Purdy's sample is no longer small.

Not that Purdy has time to worry about such career benchmarks. That's why the second-year quarterback was surprised when informed Sunday after San Francisco's 34-3 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars that he now had a full season's worth of starts under his belt.

"I didn't know that," Purdy told ESPN. "It went quick. That's crazy to think about."

Purdy made his first NFL start on Dec. 11, 2022, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coincidentally, he will start his second cycle through the league Sunday against those same Bucs, whom the 49ers host Sunday at Levi's Stadium (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

Throughout Purdy's stint as starter, there have been plenty of ups, a few downs, a devastating injury and almost nonstop outside chatter about whether he's the quarterback who can get the 49ers their sixth Super Bowl title.

Which makes now a great time to look at what's fact and what's fiction about the start of Purdy's career, using five different realities and misconceptions as the 49ers look to their future.

Note: For the purposes of this exercise, we've included the relief appearance against Miami in Week 13 last season in which he played about three quarters. Adding that to the less than one quarter he played in the NFC title game makes for a full 17th game.

The 49ers believe Purdy can be their quarterback long term: FACT

Coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers have believed in Purdy from the moment he stepped in against the Dolphins to replace an injured Jimmy Garoppolo.

Short of Tom Brady deciding he wanted to extend his career in San Francisco, Purdy was always going to be the Niners' starter this season so long as he was fully recovered from the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow he suffered in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Since overcoming that hurdle early in training camp, Purdy has done nothing to lessen Shanahan's faith in him. Even during the Niners' recent three-game losing streak in which Purdy threw five interceptions, Shanahan scoffed at the idea of benching his 23-year-old quarterback.

"I love having a guy who isn't thinking about that," Shanahan said of Purdy, who has thrown for 2,329 yards and 15 touchdown passes to five interceptions on 172-of-250 passing this season. "He's trying to make the right decisions, letting it rip, and he'll live with the consequences and try and get better when it's not."

In Purdy's 17 starts, the Niners have gone 13-4, and he ranks second in the NFL in QBR (72.7), first in yards per attempt (8.9), sixth in completion rate (68.1%), fifth in touchdown passes (31) and third in touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.9).

Whether outside observers choose to believe it, the Niners see Purdy as their quarterback for the short and long term.

Purdy throws to only wide-open pass-catchers: FICTION

One of the so-called knocks on Purdy is that he is constantly throwing the ball to teammates with no defenders in the same zip code. While Shanahan's scheme and a talented group of skill position players make a big difference (more on this in a moment), Purdy's receivers aren't necessarily more open than anyone else's.

NFL Next Gen Stats tracks average separation for receivers at the time of the ball's arrival. Those numbers can be skewed a bit by a quarterback's arm strength (or lack thereof), but it's a good indicator of how open a pass-catcher is when the ball arrives.

On Purdy's pass attempts, the 49ers average 3.46 yards of separation, which is 17th in the NFL.

Purdy's tight-window throw percentage is 10.8%, which is third lowest in the NFL, a sign that he isn't often forcing the ball to someone who isn't open. For context, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has the lowest percentage in the league in this category.

Next Gen categorizes wide-open throws as those on which a pass-catcher has 5-plus yards of separation when the ball arrives. Purdy's 21.3% wide-open percentage ranks 20th in the NFL.

There's nothing wrong with throwing to open receivers; that's a top requirement for the job. Purdy does that well, but on the whole his pass-catchers aren't more open than even half the league's other signal-callers.

Purdy benefits from one of the best groups of skill-position players and playcallers/designers in the league: FACT

Two things can be true at once, Purdy profits from an excellent scheme and surrounding talent while still doing his part to make it go. At its core, Shanahan's offense remains a run-first scheme with back Christian McCaffrey as the focal point, which is why Purdy's 26.3 pass attempts per game is 23rd in the league since he took over as starter.

Purdy also has tight end George Kittle, receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and left tackle Trent Williams, all of whom are among the best in the league at their positions.

They all play a big role in Purdy ranking second (behind Mahomes) in the NFL in yards after catch per completion (6.24) since he became the starter. What's more, Purdy's pass-catchers are averaging 1.64 yards after catch more than expected, which is first in the NFL. The next closest team, the Houston Texans, are at 0.98.

Not that Purdy should apologize for taking advantage of a good situation, but there's plenty of credit to go around for an offense that is first in offensive expected points added (plus-124.78) since Purdy stepped in.

Purdy needs to take better care of the ball, especially in close-and-late situations: FACT

During the Niners' three-game losing streak, Purdy had six turnovers, including five interceptions. It was easily the most difficult stretch of his career.

On Sunday, Purdy was asked what has been the single biggest thing he has learned as a starter. He answered with little hesitation.

"Just not being stupid," Purdy said. "Playing consistent football. If you can make the right decisions consistently over and over and over and not get bored, just take a profit with checkdowns and being smart, I think that allows you to have success as a quarterback. ... A full season under my belt, 17 games now, that's I think the biggest thing."

The counting stats aren't bad: Purdy has eight interceptions, tied for 12th fewest in the league among qualifying players, and he has lost just three fumbles. But Purdy also has tended to put the ball in harm's way.

Pat McAfee: The 49ers are all the way back

Pat McAfee explains why he believes the 49ers' losing streak won't be talked about again.

Pro Football Focus tracks turnover-worthy plays, which includes fumbles that the offense recovers and interceptable passes that the defense drops. Through nine games this year, Purdy has 14 turnover-worthy plays, sixth most in the NFL, and that comes after he had seven in 10 games in 2022.

Of more concern is that Purdy's picks have come at the worst possible times. Three have been in the fourth quarter with the Niners trailing and in opponent territory, and six of his eight career interceptions have come in the second half when trailing.

While Purdy has a full season of games now, he still doesn't have a big sample in attempting to lead comebacks. He was successful in Week 17 last year against the Las Vegas Raiders but was unable to do it during the three-game losing streak (not that Jake Moody missing a tying field goal in Cleveland was his fault). Still, Purdy is aware of his faults and working to get better at winning time.

"One thing about Brock is he always takes accountability of his mistakes and he wants to be the best version of him as possible, and that's one thing we like about Brock here," Samuel said.

Purdy not only doesn't throw deep often but struggles when he does: FICTION

One of the biggest myths about Purdy is that he simply checks the ball down to his pass-catchers and they do all the work with yards after the catch. But the reason Purdy leads the NFL in yards-per-attempt average (8.9) since becoming the 49ers' starting quarterback is because Purdy is pushing the ball down the field and his teammates are getting yards after the catch.

"I think Purdy has been more successful throwing the ball down the field than anyone that we've had since '17," Juszczyk said. "You really don't see a ton of checkdowns because he's been so successful getting it to that first read down the field."

That's not to say Purdy just airs it out, but he has moved the Niners into the middle of the pack in any measure of the deep ball since stepping in. Since he took over as Niners QB, Purdy's 7.5 air yards per attempt ranks 19th in the league (ahead of Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and others). His 19.25 true air distance per completion is 12th, and 10.5% of his throws travel 20-plus air yards, which is 16th, ahead of many of the biggest names at the position and a major uptick from years past. Niners QBs threw 8.1% of their attempts 20-plus yards from 2017 until Purdy took over, last in the NFL.

More important, Purdy has been good at taking shots down the field. Among qualified QBs, he's fourth in completion rate (52%), ninth in yards (779), eighth in yards per attempt (15.6), tied for sixth in touchdowns (six) and eighth in QBR (93.2) on throws traveling 20-plus air yards.