49ers mailbag: How does Brock Purdy compare to Jimmy Garoppolo?


The 49ers made a move at quarterback on Tuesday. No, not that move. Baker Mayfield, the ex-Browns and Panthers passer, was claimed off waivers by the Rams, who could be without starter Matthew Stafford for the rest of the season. The 49ers didn’t put in a claim.

San Francisco instead officially signed Josh Johnson from the Broncos’ practice squad. Johnson and Brock Purdy are the only healthy quarterbacks on the 49ers’ 53-man roster, although it’s important to note that the team didn’t place Jimmy Garoppolo on injured reserve despite his recently fractured foot. There’s growing optimism he can return at some point during the playoffs. Jacob Eason, meanwhile, remains on the practice squad.

Thanks for all your great questions this week, which naturally revolve around the ever-churning quarterback position. The questions have been slightly edited for spelling and content.

What changes or limitations in the playbook would you expect with Brock Purdy? Or no changes at all? — Dan M.

That’s what makes this transition so intriguing. Purdy’s strengths and weaknesses are similar to Garoppolo’s, which suggests the 49ers don’t have to make a lot of adjustments. He’s got a quick release, throws a catchable ball and is accurate on short and intermediate throws. He completed 71.1 percent of his passes last year at Iowa State. By comparison, the first quarterback taken in the draft, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, completed 67.2 percent.

That suggests the yards-after-catch weaponry that meshed so well with Garoppolo — Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, etc. — ought to work well with Purdy, too.

He also has a Garoppolo-like ability to keep plays alive. That was one of the themes when I interviewed his former coaches in the spring — Purdy had a way of pulling rabbits from tophats at seemingly impossible moments.

Like Garoppolo, he doesn’t have a big arm and won’t consistently push the ball deep (Sorry, Danny Gray). One of the consistent critiques of him at Iowa State was that he was late on deep-ball throws and that defenses had time to adjust to heaves down the field. Purdy averaged 7.9 yards per attempt in 2021. Pickett averaged 8.7 yards.

Purdy is better on the hoof than Garoppolo, who is eight years older and who, of course, had a season-ending ACL tear in 2018. Perhaps that will be a playbook change — more opportunities to roll Purdy out wide of the pocket, which also ought to help combat the blitzes that surely are coming. He also started 46 straight games at Iowa State, which seems to be another contrast with Garoppolo.

The most obvious difference is that Garoppolo has started 63 NFL contests, six of them in the playoffs. He’s won massive games in insanely loud places like New Orleans and Seattle. He’s started a Super Bowl. He’s battle-tested while Purdy will be making his first-ever NFL start on Sunday.

What are Purdy’s strengths as a QB? What did he excel at that won him a roster spot over Nate Sudfeld? — Sean B.

Sudfeld was good this summer. He was efficient in training camp and he had better statistics than Purdy in the preseason. Sudfeld completed 68 percent of his passes and finished with a 93.5 passer rating. Purdy completed 61 percent and had an 80.2 passer rating.

But whereas Sudfeld was safe and cautious, Purdy was aggressive. My sense was that’s what impressed Kyle Shanahan. He liked Purdy’s savvy and boldness and perhaps saw a kindred spirit.



Brock Purdy QB1, Josh Johnson QB2 and the rest of the 49ers’ new plan

Who throws a better long ball, Garoppolo or Purdy? — Brick C.

That’s like asking who dunks better, Steve Nash or John Stockton. It’s really not either guy’s forte.

When was the last time a team lost its starting quarterback to injury for the season, and lost its backup quarterback for the season due to injury? And what were the results? — Kevin K.

2018? The 49ers lost Garoppolo in Week 3. Then backup C.J. Beathard hurt his wrist before a Week 9 game against the Raiders. It wasn’t a season-ending injury but third-stringer Nick Mullens ended up starting the rest of the season and the 49ers finished 4-12. (Then drafted Nick Bosa with the second overall pick).

Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown for 2,437 yards, 16 TDs and 4 interceptions this season. (Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

What would you say are the main differences between now and when Mullens filled in for Garoppolo in 2020? — Simon A.

The surrounding talent. By the time Mullens made his first start in 2020, the 49ers already had lost Bosa and Solomon Thomas for the season. He made later starts without Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Samuel and Raheem Mostert, who were all in and out of the lineup that year. (Purdy also won’t have to deal with COVID-related disruptions, such as playing in Arizona for a month).

Hey Matt, did we just see Jimmy G’s last snap in a Niner uniform? Right or wrong, they drafted Trey Lance because Jimmy couldn’t stay healthy. Or does this make him easier to bring back and we have a three-headed QB cage match in 2023? — Alex W.

Of course, everything hinges on his recovery. If he’s done for the season, which is what the 49ers thought immediately after the injury, his free-agent market will be dulled. The greatest knock on Garoppolo is that he can’t stay healthy, and another season-ending issue amplifies that knock. And that, in turn, would increase the chances he comes back on a modest deal.

But if he’s able to return at some point during the playoffs — hold onto your hats. The storyline would be: Look at the way he’s battled through injuries to help his team in the playoffs the last two seasons! If that’s the case, free agency could be a wild ride.

Say Lance and the GOAT (Jerry Rice, not Tom Brady) shared healing genes and Lance was miraculously able to play in a month. Can he come off IR or is he officially out for the year? If he can, that means either Elijah Mitchell or Javon Kinlaw couldn’t, right? — James S.

That’s right. Teams can activate players off of injured reserve eight times in a season. The 49ers already have used six of those activations and the thinking, at the moment, is that Mitchell and Kinlaw will get the last two.

Kinlaw is interesting. He hasn’t played since Sept. 25 and the 49ers haven’t even opened his three-week practice window yet. Shanahan has been vague about his return — “I do believe it’s getting close,” he said Friday — for the last two months. The 49ers seem to be waiting to get beyond their final game on an artificial surface, next Thursday in Seattle, and to give Kinlaw and his problematic knee the maximum amount of time to heal before the playoffs.

I heard that Kyle Juszczyk was the emergency QB in case Purdy had gotten hurt last week.  How much do NFL teams practice such an emergency? I hadn’t thought about it before, but the 49ers were one hit away from that situation. — Timothy M.

The true backup quarterback barely gets any first-team snaps in a week, so I imagine the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency backup gets very, very little practice once the season begins. The 49ers would be relying on the 2,896 snaps Juszczyk’s taken in the general orbit of the quarterback if he was ever tapped to play the position. I also wonder — given his 34-yard touchdown throw in Los Angeles — whether McCaffrey would get QB snaps in an emergency. He’d be a shorter version of Taysom Hill.

Christian McCaffrey completed his only pass attempt this season for a 34-yard touchdown against the Rams. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

Can you confirm if Seattle loses to the Panthers and Niners win on Sunday, the Niners can clinch the NFC West next Thursday? — Dan S.

Yes. In that scenario, the worst record the 49ers could have is 10-7 and the best the Seahawks could have is 10-7. The 49ers would win the tiebreaker due to a better head-to-head record. The Cardinals already have eight losses. The Rams already have nine. Neither can get to 10-7.

If Tarvarius Moore is out for a while, do we see the Niners bringing up Dontae Johnson to replace him for safety/special teams depth? — Zach M.

I’m glad you brought up Moore because I think he’s been really good on special teams coverage units for the last two months. He and Sam Womack have been the main gunners. My guess is that Ambry Thomas takes over that job while Moore is out.

Yes, Johnson could get bumped up from the practice squad to provide depth at safety and to play on special teams. But unless the 49ers move someone else to injured reserve, it would only be a temporary elevation. With Josh Johnson, the team now has the maximum 53 players on the active roster.

In Haiku format, what is your 49ers’ prediction for the rest of the regular season? — Matt W.

Forty-niners fans

Get yourselves some Dramamine

It’s gonna be wild

What would the Niners do if Brock Purdy wins the Super Bowl? — Mike R.


Can we refer to Josh Johnson and Dontae Johnson as the Barnacle Bros.? — Steven M.

Pay the man, Shirley.

(Top photo of Brock Purdy: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)


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