Orlovsky believes Darnold can lead 49ers back to NFC title game


When he isn't sitting courtside with his new 49ers teammates at NBA playoff games, new San Francisco quarterback Sam Darnold is receiving glowing endorsements from sports talk pundits like Dan Orlovsky.

The pecking order of the 49ers' QB room -- Darnold, Trey Lance, Brock Purdy and now Brandon Allen -- remains to be seen, but Orlovsky believes if given the chance, Darnold has what it takes to help the 49ers make it to their third straight NFC Championship Game during the 2023 NFL season.

"Sam Darnold is absolutely capable of taking this team back to the NFC Championship Game," Orlovsky said Monday during "Get Up" on ESPN. "I'm so excited to watch him if he's the guy in San Francisco with Brock Purdy a little bit banged up. Finally at a place that has the coaching, the offensive talent, the complete team to allow his talent -- one of the best talents that we've seen come out of college in years.

"I'm so excited, and I think he could be the guy that brings them back to the NFC Championship Game."

There's a bit of uncertainty surrounding the 49ers' QB depth chart for the upcoming season, which is nothing new for the 49ers Faithful. Purdy, who came in under center as a rookie in 2022 after injuries to Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, is on schedule to begin throwing in early June after undergoing elbow surgery in March.

The 23-year-old Mr. Irrelevant was the talk of the NFL last season after making his debut in Week 13, leading the 49ers to eight straight wins en route to an NFC championship appearance against the Philadelphia Eagles. His March surgery was a result of the torn ulnar collateral ligament he sustained in his throwing elbow during the title game.

Lance, taken No. 3 overall by San Francisco in the 2021 NFL Draft, is returning from a broken ankle himself and eager to make a comeback after losing out on his chance at real starting experience last season because of his injury.

Then there's Darnold, who the 49ers recently signed to a one-year contract in free agency and who originally was thought to be the third quarterback on the roster, or even placed on the practice squad.

With so much still up in the air when it comes to who exactly will start for San Francisco come Week 1, it isn't entirely possible to completely rule out the veteran Darnold as both Purdy and Lance look to perform post-injury. And, to Orlovsky's point, Darnold hasn't played on a stacked team like the 49ers before.

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The former No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, who turns 26 in June, spent his first three seasons with the New York Jets. He struggled mightily in his 38 starts, but on a team that never took the initiative to build around their proposed franchise QB. Then, when he was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 2020, he didn't find much organizational stability there, either.

It's a different story in Santa Clara, where a well-oiled machine manned by an offensive-minded coach in Kyle Shanahan has developed a roster that contends year-in and year-out on both sides of the ball. Could this be Darnold's time to shine?

With Purdy's success last season and all the 49ers invested into drafting Lance, it's a long shot. But Orlovsky certainly believes it's possible.

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