When the San Francisco 49ers selected Brock Purdy with the final pick of the 2022 NFL draft, the undersized quarterback from 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 played on in the league. Most have rushed out.
Purdy, after just seven games, may already be the most relevant of them all.
With a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game on Sunday, the 23-year-old would go 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’m joking a little bit. (But) for me, I see 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 history of those picked last — and how Purdy stacks up against some of his predecessors.
The origin of Mr. Irrelevant
Forty years after the NFL held its first draft, a former NFL wide receiver named Paul Salata brought the moniker Mr. Irrelevant to the world.
Salata had a mediocre 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 final pick in that year’s draft to a ceremony in California and awarding him a fumble player trophy. It was called 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 get no recognition, says Salata, who died in 2021, aged 94, to the newspaper. “They are doing their job and should be noticed.”
Who was the first Mr. Irrelevant?
His name was Kelvin Kirk. A wide receiver from Dayton, he was selected 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 looked a bit like Kirk to stand in for him — and no one noticed.
“How irrelevant is that?” Kirk told the paper. “It’s so irrelevant that the first Mr. Irrelevant lost his plane.”
Kirk, who died in 2003, was cut during training camp but went on to play 78 games in the Canadian Football League.
In recent history…
Kirk’s career was relatively typical of a Mr. Irrelevant. Of the 47 players who had the name, about half (24) never appeared in an NFL regular season game.
However, the last three Mr. Irrelevants have all had some success. In addition to Purdy’s ascension with the 49ers, Grant Stuard, the last pick in 2021, is still in the NFL, with the Indianapolis Colts. Tae Crowder, the 2020 receiver, made 31 starts for the New York Giants over three seasons. He has since been signed by the Steelers.
Other recent Mr. Irrelevants play elsewhere, such as 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 largely depends on what you consider a successful career.
No one 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. Irrelevants. Only three others have lasted more than four years in the NFL.
In time, however, Purdy may get there. And when it comes to notoriety, he probably already takes the crown.
Not only is Purdy only 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 all, Purdy has amassed 1,920 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, just four interceptions.
“He’s been incredible with it,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters. “I think that’s the number one thing that he’s done — and to be able to be as good with the ball as he is while still making a number of the plays that he has, that’s definitely what I’ve been most impressed with.”
The one star in 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 last in the NFL -the 1978 draft because the man chosen after him, Lee Washburn, never made it to training camp due to injury.
Contributor: Associated Press
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.