Brock Purdy proudly leading group of Mr. Irrelevants as huge outlier

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National Football League

Dec. 29, 2023 1:44 p.m. ET

Are you worried about Brock Purdy after his uncharacteristic interception-laden performance on Christmas Day? Chandler Harnish isn’t.  

Mr. Irrelevants, it seems, stick together, whether they’re an MVP candidate like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Purdy or Harnish, the 253rd and final pick of the 2012 draft, who now works as a manager in the construction industry and trains young QBs on the side.

Purdy’s outstanding season in leading the 49ers to a tie for the best record in the NFC suffered its first real blip on Monday when the Baltimore Ravens forced him into a career-high four picks and severely limited the Niners’ offensive progress.

While Purdy’s vision, composure and tactical capacities have been tested to this point, perhaps the biggest factors that will be examined against the Washington Commanders on Sunday (1 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX and the FOX Sports App) will be his fortitude and toughness, given how disappointingly things went against the Ravens.

“That’s one thing I’m not concerned about with him at all, the ability to bounce back,” Harnish said. “Being a Mr. Irrelevant is an incredibly cool thing and it is a privilege to be drafted at all into the NFL.

“But it does give you a bit of a chip on your shoulder because some people don’t see it the right way or consider it some kind of a negative thing. People might use it as a reason to doubt you. All of that just makes you stronger and, yes, there is a kinship between the guys who have been in that spot.”

The term Mr. Irrelevant comes from a week of festivities arranged each year in Newport Beach, Calif. The brainchild of former USC and NFL wide receiver Paul Salata, the idea is to honor the lowest pick of the draft as if they were the top selection, all while raising money for charity.

In many cases, Mr. Irrelevant doesn’t make it past training camp. However, some, like kicker Ryan Succop, go on to have a long and solid career. Harnish, who came out of Northern Illinois, was somewhere in between. He enjoyed four years in the NFL, mostly as a practice-squad QB with the Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck was the first pick the same year he was the last), then the Minnesota Vikings and finally for the Arizona Cardinals.

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Purdy is the overwhelming outlier of the group. He shined last season after injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance before taking over the job with resounding success this year. Before the defeat to the Ravens, Purdy was the frontrunner for MVP and helped make San Francisco the Super Bowl favorite.

Lamar Jackson now tops most betting markets, but the Niners have certainly looked as good, or better, compared to any other NFC contender.

“What Brock has done has been incredible, and it will take more than one bad week to throw him off course,” Harnish added. “You know he’s going to have a point to prove this weekend. You can imagine how it is. People like to make their little jokes about Mr. Irrelevant or whatever.  

“I consider it an honor, and you carry it with you the rest of your life. And it also gives you a reason to show people what you can do if they are doubting you.”

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Harnish coaches QBs at all levels in his spare time from his management job and lives just outside of Chicago. Football is still an all-consuming part of his life, and he loves nothing more than watching games with his young family – while we chatted, he had the Military Bowl clash between Virginia Tech and Tulane on the television in the background.

Festive season means a get-together and a big Super Bowl party and, whenever watching the NFL with friends and family, he never fails to point out if a Mr. Irrelevant is out there making an impact.

“With Brock, there’s no need to do that,” Harnish said. “Everyone knows his story already.”

Making Mr. Irrelevant relevant, which, of course, was the whole idea of the ironic nickname in the first place.

Purdy has bought into the distinction as well. When defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson was drafted last by the Los Angeles Rams earlier this year, Purdy reached out with a message of support, despite the divisional and long-standing rivalry between the Niners and L.A.

[Brock Purdy’s Mr. Irrelevant story is beyond belief]

“He told me to keep my head up, and I can do great things, just continue to work,” Johnson told FOX Sports recently. “(He said) if he could do it, I could do it.”

San Francisco has rebounded from difficulty before this season, overcoming a three-game blip earlier in the campaign – during which Purdy remained unflustered.

As he faces the most critical part of the season, Purdy has the hopes of the 49ers on his shoulders. And his fellow members of a small and unique club rooting him on.  

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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