NFL draft afterthoughts Brock Purdy, Isiah Pacheco share Super Bowl spotlight

LAS VEGAS — There was no walk across the NFL draft stage for Brock Purdy. There was no hug from Commissioner Roger Goodell. There were no draft-day predictions of quarterbacking greatness, no proclamations by analysts about Pro Bowl selections and Super Bowl appearances that surely were to come.

No, there was only the long-awaited phone call from an NFL team — any NFL team — on April 30, 2022, as the seventh and final round wound down at the Caesars Forum on the Las Vegas Strip and Purdy watched on TV with his family in the Phoenix area.

Much to Purdy’s good fortune, it was San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch on the line. His team was prepared to make the 262nd choice of the draft — the very last pick.

“I’m sorry it took till the end,” Lynch told Purdy, a middling prospect from Iowa State. “We find you very relevant, but you are going to be Mr. Irrelevant. … We’re fired up.”

Lynch handed the phone to Coach Kyle Shanahan in the 49ers’ draft war room.

“Brock, congrats, dude,” Shanahan said. “Hey, dude, you’re coming into an awesome situation for you. We’ve loved you on tape, man. You know how to play the position. And this is a hell of a day for you, man.”

“I appreciate it,” Purdy told Shanahan. “Thanks for the opportunity. And honestly, man, I’m ready to roll for you all. So let’s do it.”

Only 11 selections earlier, the Kansas City Chiefs had used the draft’s 251st choice on an unheralded running back from Rutgers, Isiah Pacheco. It would end up being a hell of a day not only for Purdy and Pacheco but also for the 49ers and Chiefs. On Sunday, both seventh-rounders will be key players as the NFL plays its first Super Bowl in the city where its 2022 draft was held.

Each of them has come a long way from being overlooked.

Will Hewlett, a quarterbacks coach based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., began training Purdy for the draft soon after Iowa State’s 2021 season ended.

“I immediately noticed his ability to absorb a considerable amount of information,” Hewlett said by phone this week, “and apply it immediately. … And he wanted it all. Those workouts were like, ‘Brock, we’ve got to stop, dude.’ ”

Purdy wanted to focus on refining his throwing mechanics. He ended up improving his throwing velocity more than any other quarterback who had worked with Hewlett. When the two broke down Purdy’s performance in the East-West Shrine Bowl, a college all-star game during the pre-draft evaluation process, Hewlett could tell Purdy thoroughly processed whatever happened on the field.

“I knew this kid sees the game uniquely,” Hewlett said.

But Hewlett also knew he would have to prepare Purdy to interact with NFL teams in a particular way.

“You’re being drafted to be a backup,” Hewlett said. “You have to go into these interviews with a certain mind-set. I think he understood what his path to the NFL was going to be. But he also always thought he was going to be a starter in the NFL.”

Purdy went to the NFL combine and performed well without generating much buzz. He went to his pro day at Iowa State and was nearly flawless in his passing drills — “Maybe two drops and one miss that wasn’t even that bad,” Hewlett said — and teams’ interest began to tick up. Hewlett recalls Kellen Moore, then the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, being impressed. He also recalls interest from the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots.

Ian Book had been chosen in the fourth round of the 2021 draft by the New Orleans Saints after working with Hewlett. Book was more athletic and had played on a larger college football stage at Notre Dame. But Hewlett certainly thought Purdy was draftable.

“I knew he just needed to get in a [training] camp somewhere, and people would be blown away,” Hewlett said.

The 49ers assigned Brian Griese, their new quarterbacks coach, to evaluate some of the quarterbacks eligible in the draft. They just had reached the NFC championship game with Jimmy Garoppolo and had traded up for the No. 3 selection in the 2021 draft to use on quarterback Trey Lance.

“We got down to the process . . . [and asked], ‘Who were the guys that we think will be there when we might take a quarterback, and which one of those guys do we like?’ ” Griese said this week. “And Brock Purdy was the guy.”

Pacheco never reached 800 rushing yards in any of his four seasons at Rutgers. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in his final college season. But his rugged running style caught the Chiefs’ attention. He clocked a fast 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

“There wasn’t a ton of film on him in the pass game, in particular pass receiving,” Kansas City General Manager Brett Veach said. “We knew he had a violent running skill set. We knew he had the size and straight-line speed. It was one of those things where we saw a little in the East-West game that we felt confident.”

They were confident enough to use the 30th pick of the seventh round on Pacheco that April. Team president Mark Donovan remembers asking Veach on draft day about the selection.

“He goes, ‘This guy never really had the opportunity to shine because of the offense, because of the offensive line struggles they had at Rutgers,’ ” Donovan recalled Veach telling him. “ ‘If you watch his film, it’s really tough to run the ball when you’re getting hit in the backfield. When you look at the measurables and you look at the grit, how hard that kid works and how hard he runs, we think we might have something here.’ ”

The 49ers had given Purdy a fourth-round draft grade, according to Shanahan and Griese.

“We knew there was a chance he wouldn’t get drafted,” Shanahan said. “We had a lot of holes to fill … and quarterback wasn’t one of them at the time. If we needed him, we would have done it in the fourth [round]. … Our goal was hoping he wouldn’t get drafted so we could get him as a free agent.”

Griese was in contact with Purdy during the draft.

“I’m not in charge of the pick,” Griese said. “So I’m able to say: ‘Hey, man, I’m really hoping we pick you. I’m talking with these guys about picking you. … I’d love to have you here. So just hang tight.’ ”

As the end of the draft neared, the 49ers became increasingly skeptical about their chances of being able to sign Purdy as an undrafted free agent.

“You try looking at the [draft] board and who’s up there, and he was our best guy on the board by far,” Shanahan said. “Once we knew we wouldn’t get him as a free agent, it was pretty much a no-brainer.”

At his parents’ house in Arizona, Purdy had been receiving calls all day from teams interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent. When Lynch finally called, Purdy and his mother told NBC Sports Bay Area, he tried to preserve the surprise by bluffing to his family members that it was just another free agent call. But then his name scrolled across the bottom of the TV screen just before the pick was announced in Las Vegas, and the celebration erupted. His mother summoned the friends and other well-wishers who were outside the house after she had placed them on standby, in case Purdy was drafted.

“I haven’t held any grudges against other teams,” Purdy said this week. “It all happened how it needed to.”

Similarly, Pacheco said: “I was very thankful. I felt wanted.”

By training camp of their rookie year, each player was making an impression. Shanahan told 49ers owner Jed York that he thought Purdy, even as a rookie third-stringer, was the team’s best quarterback. And Pacheco was drawing notice at Chiefs camp.

“Guys are coming up to me saying: ‘You see 10? This guy is a player. This guy can be something,’ ” Donovan said. “I remember Travis [Kelce] came up to me, maybe after the first preseason game, and said, ‘We’ve got something here.’ ”

Said Veach: “Since he got here, he’s been 100 miles an hour, full go, full throttle.”

Pacheco has amassed 1,765 rushing yards in two seasons and is about to play in his second Super Bowl. Purdy helped the 49ers to the NFC championship game last season following injuries to Lance and Garoppolo. He returned from offseason elbow surgery to be a Pro Bowl selection this season.

“No, I haven’t seen a story like Brock Purdy,” Shanahan said. “But there’s a lot of good ones. You’ve got Kurt Warner. You’ve got Terrell Davis. You’ve got Tom Brady. But Brock’s right up there with it, and he’s a great player just like all those guys.”

“His feel for the game, his anticipation, his mind are first round,” Hewlett said. “If Brock were 6-4 and threw with more velocity, he’s going to be the first pick. You don’t really know what you have until he’s out there.”

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