When the San Francisco 49ers selected Brock Purdy with the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft, the undersized quarterback out of Iowa State unwittingly joined an exclusive club, becoming the latest man known as “Mr. Irrelevant.”
Since the coining of the term in 1976, only 47 players have held that title, by virtue of being picked last in the NFL draft. Some have gone on to play in the league. Most have fizzled out.
Purdy, after just seven games, might already be the most relevant of them all.
With a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game Sunday, the 23-year-old would move to 8-0 as a starting quarterback in the NFL and, barring injury, become just the third Mr. Irrelevant to appear in a Super Bowl. Kicker Ryan Succop, who won a ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two years ago, and former New England Patriots linebacker Marty Moore are the others.
“It’s a funny thing,” Purdy told local reporters in April, when asked about becoming the latest Mr. Irrelevant. “… I laugh about it. I joke around a bit. (But) for me, I’m looking at it as an opportunity that I have my foot in the door. A team believed in me.”
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As potential Mr. Irrelevant history beckons, here’s a look at the long and not-so-storied history of those picked last – and how Purdy stacks up against some of his predecessors.
The origins of Mr. Irrelevant
Forty years after the NFL held its first draft, a former NFL wide receiver named Paul Salata brought the Mr. Irrelevant moniker into the world.
Salata had a middling three-year career in the NFL from 1949 to 1951 before appearing in movies and working in construction. He debuted “Irrelevant Week” in 1976, inviting the last pick in that year’s draft to a ceremony in California and awarding him a trophy of a fumbling player. It was dubbed the Lowsman Trophy – a playful nod to the Heisman, which is awarded to college football’s best player.
Despite the whimsical nature of the idea, Salata told The New York Times in a 2017 interview that his intentions behind Mr. Irrelevant were sincere.
“Everyone who is drafted works hard, and some of them don’t get any recognition,” Salata, who died in 2021 at 94, told the newspaper. “They do their work and should be noticed.”
Who was the first Mr. Irrelevant?
His name was Kelvin Kirk. A wide receiver out of Dayton, he was picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 17th round of the 1976 NFL draft, No. 487 overall.
Kirk, as the story goes, actually missed his flight to California for Irrelevant Week. According to a 2002 story in The Bradenton Herald, Salata asked a 40-year-old butcher who somewhat resembled Kirk to stand in for him – and nobody noticed.
“How irrelevant is that?” Kirk told the newspaper. “It’s so irrelevant that the first Mr. Irrelevant missed his flight.”
Kirk, who died in 2003, was cut during training camp but went on to play 78 games in the Canadian Football League.
In more recent history…
Kirk’s career was relatively typical for a Mr. Irrelevant. Of the 47 players to hold the moniker, about half (24) never appeared in an NFL regular-season game.
The three most recent Mr. Irrelevants, however, have all had some success. In addition to Purdy’s ascent with the 49ers, Grant Stuart, the last pick in 2021, is still in the NFL, with the Indianapolis Colts. Tae Crowder, the 2020 recipient, made 31 starts for the New York Giants over three seasons. He’s since been signed by the Steelers.
Other recent Mr. Irrelevants are playing elsewhere, like Trey Quinn (now in the USFL) and Chad Kelly (now in the CFL). Several are out of football.
How does Purdy rank in relevance?
It depends, in large part, on what you consider a successful career.
Nobody has gone from the last pick to a Pro Bowl appearance. In terms of longevity, the clear leader is Succop, whose 14 seasons (and counting) in the league are tops among Mr. Irrelevant. Only three others have lasted more than four years in the NFL.
In time, however, Purdy might get there. And in terms of notoriety, he probably already takes the crown.
Not only is Purdy just the second Mr. Irrelevant quarterback to appear in an NFL game, after Kelly, but he’s the first to have any sort of consistent run – not to mention success. The 49ers have won each of Purdy’s starts, and he’s looked more like an established veteran than a last-pick rookie. In total, Purdy racked up 1,920 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, just four interceptions.
“He’s been unbelievable with that,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters. “I think that’s the number one thing he’s done – and to be able to be as good with the ball as he has while still making a number of the plays that he has, that’s definitely the thing I’ve been most impressed with.”
The one asterisk to the debate is quarterback Bill Kenney, who started 77 games over nine seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs and even earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1983. Kenney was dubbed Mr. Irrelevant even though he was actually taken second-to-last in the 1978 NFL draft because the man chosen after him, Lee Washburn, never made it to training camp due to injury.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.