Why Rapoport believes Darnold will be 49ers' QB1 in Week 1


As the 49ers brace for yet another offseason highlighted by quarterback drama, the narrative comes down to who will start under center for San Francisco come Week 1. 

While Trey Lance and Brock Purdy have been pinned against each other in the public eye as the clear front runners for the starting role, NFL insider Ian Rapoport has a different idea of how things will play out

“We do not know what Trey Lance is going to be if he continues the trajectory that he’s been on,” Rapoport said Tuesday on NFL Network (h/t 49ers Webzone). “And I think, certainly, it seems Sam Darnold will more likely than not be the starter going into the season, but there is an opportunity for someone to step in there and start [the] first couple of games of the regular season for the 49ers.”

Darnold, who spent his first three NFL seasons with the New York Jets, signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract with San Francisco earlier this month.

While there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding his position, the 25-year-old told Bay Area media that he’s not focused on his place on the depth chart but rather on how he can help the 49ers win games and get back to the NFC Championship for the fourth time in five years.

Rapoport’s NFL Network colleague David Carr seconded Rapoport’s comments.

“Trey Lance is still unproven in this league,” Carr said. “And so you insert Sam Darnold, who I think belongs in this system. I’ve actually been saying for the last couple of years [that] he would be great in a system like this.

“He finds himself with a great football team. I would even argue that he might have a little bit more ability than Brock Purdy. Although Brock again played great, fantastic as a rookie, I think Sam has a little more down-the-field ability and a lot of the same ability to move, ability to buy time, delegate the football.

“[Darnold] had a good year last year. He’s going to enter this thing with a lot of reps. Trey is unproven. Sam is kind of proven in this league. So I think it’s going to be very interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam starts Week 1 and then Brock kind of comes in and does kind of what he did last year.”

Purdy emerged as the 49ers’ QB1 in 2022 and it appeared that wouldn’t change in 2023. But an elbow injury he sustained in the NFC title game resulted in surgery and an indefinite time away from the field. Kyle Shanahan said this week that his recovery timeline could go anywhere from six to eight months.

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And while Mr. Irrelevant recovers, an opportunity arose for Lance to reclaim his starting role. But the 22-year-old former No. 3 pick, too, is recovering from a broken ankle he sustained last September. That’s where Darnold comes in.

“Sam has as good of a skill set as there is,” Shanahan said. “That’s why he went as the third pick in the draft. When you study his play, you can see it too. I don’t think he’s always been in the best situations, which is tough for quarterbacks. It’s tough for all players, but it is one position, and it depends on the other ten guys around you too.

“And I think Sam has played and done some really good things in this league. [He] hasn’t won a ton of games and been thrown in some situations where you’re going to keep both teams in the game because you got to keep slinging that ball and give your team a chance to win. And so you don’t always have the best stats, but you see the ability. And he’s always had that ability since his first year in college when we started watching him, and there’s no reason he can’t do it.” 

The Jets went 13-25 in games Darnold started, in which he threw 45 touchdowns, 39 interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 78.6. This opportunity with the 49ers gives him a fresh start and gives this team another (much-needed) option at quarterback. 

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