Brock Purdy

Identifying strengths, weaknesses of Purdy, Lance, Darnold

Matt Maiocco takes a look at the 49ers' top three quarterbacks

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The 49ers have four quarterbacks on their 90-man roster.

That group consists of two players recently chosen at No. 3 overall in the NFL Draft and one player who served as the backup on a Super Bowl contender. And, of course, there is the player the 49ers have pointed toward as the presumptive starter — if healthy.

All signs appear to be encouraging for Brock Purdy to regain his starting job after playing exceedingly well in his eight games at the end of his rookie season. Purdy, of course, entered the NFL as the 262nd and final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Purdy, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold are the main guys, though Brandon Allen has every reason to shoot for a realistic chance of being on an NFL roster this fall after being Joe Burrow’s backup with the Cincinnati Bengals the past three seasons.

On the 49ers’ practice field, Lance and Darnold are getting most of the practice snaps during organized team activities while Allen becomes more accustomed to the offense after joining the offseason program on May 8. Purdy is just beginning his throwing program with the hope of being on the field when the regular season begins.

Most of the focus is on the 49ers’ top three — the players who are realistic options to be on the field when the 49ers open the season Sept. 10 at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the 49ers’ top three quarterbacks:

Brock Purdy

Purdy came to the 49ers with very little outside expectations. He made the most of his limited number of practice snaps and beat out Nate Sudfeld, who figured to open last season as the 49ers’ No. 2 behind Lance.

When Jimmy Garoppolo accepted a sizable payout to remain with the 49ers, Purdy became the No. 3 quarterback and did not suit up for the first two regular-season games.

Injuries to Lance and Garoppolo forced Purdy into action, and the 49ers’ offense took off.

He completed 114 of 170 (67.1 percent) pass attempts in the regular season with 13 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 107.3. The 49ers scored 33 points or more in five of his six regular-season games after reaching that output just twice in the first 11 games.

In the postseason, Purdy showed he could perform when the stakes were the largest. He was 41 of 63 (65.1 percent) for 569 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 109.8.

Strengths: Purdy played a lot of football at Iowa State, and it shows.

He demonstrated presence and poise in the pocket. He does not appear to get rattled, and he even carries himself with a little attitude. Purdy demonstrated clear-thinking, processing and strong decision-making after stepping onto the field with the 49ers.

He goes through his progression. And when a play breaks down, he has the athleticism to buy time and keep his eyes downfield in order to make off-script plays.

Purdy seems to run coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense as it was drawn up, while also being able to make plays that presented themselves after the original plan did not develop.

Purdy’s work ethic and attention to detail won the respect of his teammates, too. He finished last season as the clear choice to remain as the team’s starting quarterback.

Despite Purdy's limited time as the 49ers' starter last season, the organization believes everything that made him successful are part of his DNA and he can continue to improve.

Weaknesses: The only reasons for Purdy not being evaluated as one of the top quarterbacks in his draft class were physical. At 6-foot-1, he does not have ideal height for an NFL quarterback. And his arm strength was viewed as something that could prevent him from making all the throws required at the next level.

As it turned out, his arm was stronger than even the 49ers originally thought. But, now, that arm is perhaps the only issue standing between Purdy and a starting job to open the season. He underwent surgery on March 10 to repair a torn ligament in his throwing elbow.

Thus far, the 49ers have been encouraged with the pace of his recovery.

“He’s just had one [throwing] session thus far, but we’re incredibly encouraged by that,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Wednesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio. "Brock’s a worker. If you give him a task he’s going to do everything in his power.”

Trey Lance

Following the 2020 season, the 49ers made the organizational decision to move up to No. 3 in the 2021 NFL Draft to select the player who would be anointed as the team’s franchise quarterback.

Lance was chosen over Mac Jones and Justin Fields after Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were the choices of the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.

Lance’s time came a year ago. He moved to the top of the depth chart to begin his second NFL season. However, Lance’s run as the 49ers’ clear-cut starter did not even last five quarters of game action.

He slogged his way through the season-opening loss on a rainy day in Chicago. Then, Lance sustained a fractured right ankle when he appeared to make a late-decision to slide as he came up against Seattle defenders in the first quarter of a Week 2 game at Levi’s Stadium.

Lance spent the remainder of the season on the sideline.

Strengths: There is plenty to like about Lance, who shows all the attributes of the person the 49ers thought they were getting in the draft two years ago. He has the right mindset, work ethic and understanding of the game.

Lance’s physical tools are undeniable, too. He has the requisite size, along with a strong arm that makes him capable of delivering every throw to every corner of the field.

Also, Lance brings running ability that no other quarterback on the team’s roster can match. When Lance is on the field, defenses must account for him as the quarterback-driven run game becomes a part of the team’s offense. In a short sample size, Lance attempted 54 runs in his first two seasons, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt with one touchdown.

Weaknesses: Experience, for one. Nobody really knows much about Lance’s ability to perform at this level because he has not been on the field long enough to prove anything — one way or the other.

Lance, 23, simply has not played a lot of football since his senior year at Marshall (Minn.) High School in 2018. He started only one season during his three years at North Dakota State. And in two years in the NFL, he has played just three full games.

Lance sustained injuries in his first two seasons that dramatically set him back. His hairline fracture of his right index finger had a significant impact on his ability to properly grip and throw the ball. Then, his fractured ankle wiped out his second season. 

Yes, Lance can make all the throws, but he needs to gain more consistency with ball placement. He has worked on his mechanics and release. The ball appears to be coming out of his hand with a tighter spiral this offseason.

RELATED: Why 49ers confident McKivitz can replace McGlinchey on O-line

Sam Darnold

Darnold was in the discussion as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Instead, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield. After the New York Giants took running back Saquon Barkley, the New York Jets grabbed Darnold.

Darnold was among the consensus top players in that draft because of his arm talent. And while Darnold is still young (he turns 26 on Monday) and his arm continues to be top-tier, playing the quarterback position is a lot more than just being able to throw a football.

The Jets dealt him to the Carolina Panthers after they selected Wilson in the 2021 draft.

Darnold showed some flashes last season while starting six games last season. Although he completed just 58.6 percent of his attempts, he threw seven touchdowns with three interceptions and a career-best passer rating of 92.6.

The 49ers signed him as an unrestricted free agent. His base contract is one year for $4.5 million. He can earn nearly $12 million total this season in bonuses and incentives.

Strengths: As advertised, Darnold looks the part on the practice field with his ability to throw the ball — and look impressive while doing it.

He comes to the 49ers without any entitlement. At every stop, he has earned a reputation of a good teammate and a hard-worker. Shanahan has thought highly of Darnold since studying him leading up to the 2018 draft, so there are clearly reasons the 49ers identified him as someone they wanted to sign.

Weaknesses: While Darnold clearly has the physical skills to succeed, through his first five NFL seasons he has been a below-average starting NFL quarterback. He threw 61 touchdown passes and 55 interceptions. He simply must improve how he takes care of the football.

Whether it’s how he sees the game or processes information, clearly, Darnold must dramatically improve his decision-making in order to experience the kind of success that was widely predicted for him when he entered the NFL with tons of expectations.

Darnold did not have much support or consistency during his time in New York or Carolina, but there is nobody to blame for his struggles other than himself.

Now, Darnold is learning new techniques. And after doing it a certain way for such a long time, he is being challenged to make some changes in Shanahan's offense.

The 49ers offer him his best chance for success, but merely earning an opportunity to get on the field will present a major challenge of its own.

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