Last season, Brock Purdy not only became the first Mr. Irreleveant in NFL history to complete a pass but also improbably led the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. However, his season — and the 49ers’ — came to an end when Purdy tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) against the Eagles in the conference title game.
Sixth months removed from his injury, what does Purdy’s outlook like now? How will his elbow ailment impact San Francisco’s Super Bowl hopes, and what are the Niners’ options if Purdy isn’t ready for the season?
Latest Brock Purdy Injury Update
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan revealed on July 25 that Purdy has been fully cleared and is “without restriction” heading into training camp. Shanahan also confirmed Purdy will be San Francisco’s QB1 as long as he remains healthy.
Purdy will be managed during training camp and could miss practices as he follows a prescribed throwing schedule. However, the 49ers still felt comfortable allowing him back on the field. However, they will wait until the second day of camp to allow him to throw, meaning Sam Darnold and Trey Lance will handle reps on Day 1.
After the 49ers’ minicamp earlier this summer, Purdy went to Jacksonville to work with quarterback coach Will Hewlett and orthopedic specialist Tom Gormley, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Hewlett helped Purdy during the 2022 pre-draft visit, while Gormley also helped devise throwing programs for Purdy to assist with his motion.
“As I start to throw more, I want to just make sure my mechanics and everything are right,” Purdy said in May. “So go down, work with them for a couple of weeks, and then get back here.”
Purdy underwent surgery on March 10 to repair his UCL with an internal brace. 49ers general manager John Lynch expected Purdy to resume throwing 12 weeks post-surgery, which would have been in early June.
However, Purdy was ahead of schedule and started throwing — without pain — in late May. By the first week of June, Purdy was throwing three times weekly.
“Brock’s been great on his rehab,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s as obsessive about it as you can be. That’s why he’s ahead of schedule.”
Lynch, Shanahan, and Purdy are optimistic that the second-year quarterback will be ready for Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season. However, while Purdy said his arm feels good, he has expressed caution about putting definitive dates on anything.
“To say I’m going to be ready by this time or this time, we’re not trying to label any kind of timeline like that,” Purdy said. “We’re just taking it one day at a time and don’t want to say anything that we regret down the road or whatever.”
What Is Purdy’s Injury?
Purdy tore the UCL in the elbow of his throwing arm during the first quarter of last year’s NFC Championship Game against the Eagles.
Often with these injuries, the UCL gradually tears over time, especially among individuals who engage in repeated overhand throwing motions. But sometimes, it can occur in an instant.
The initial prognosis for recovery was at least six months. Of course, there can be complications and setbacks.
In fact, a recent study shows a meaningfully increased probability of a torn UCL eventually culminating in another torn UCL. While Purdy could prosper in the NFL despite this early career setback, he’s also a higher-than-normal re-injury risk.
What Are the 49ers’ Options if Purdy Doesn’t Play?
There’s been no indication that Purdy will miss time at the beginning of the season or be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which would require him to miss at least four games. However, if Purdy suffers a setback, the 49ers will have to choose between Lance and Darnold as their temporary starting quarterback.
Lance — whom San Francisco sacrificed three first-round picks to acquire just two years ago — entered the 2022 campaign as the 49ers’ starter. But a Week 2 ankle injury ended his season and put Lance’s future in San Fran in question. Lance was frequently mentioned in trade rumors throughout the spring but remains on the Niners’ roster.
San Francisco gave Darnold a one-year, $4.5 million contract this offseason, and he could have a decent chance to earn a starting job if Purdy isn’t ready. Appearing on The Pat McAfee show in mid-June, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Darnold likely “has the edge” to be the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback this season.
Maybe Shanahan believes this will motivate Lance. Or maybe the longtime coach truly believes Darnold — who’s somehow still only 25 years old — might finally exhibit his potential in an offense featuring one of the league’s top backfields and one of the NFC’s top receiving corps.
The reality is the 49ers should be fine with or without Purdy, at least for now. San Francisco has one of the most impressive collections of offensive skill position talent in the NFL, an above-average offensive line, and Shanahan, the best offensive mind in the league.
So while Jimmy Garoppolo is long gone, this team will have a few months to assess whether Lance is ready to help lead this offense or if Darnold brings more poise while operating in the best scheme he’s ever played in. And if the answer is “none of the above,” and if Purdy’s ready, then at least San Francisco knows what to expect from their most unlikely hero from the 2022 season.