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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Orlovsky: Sam Darnold can lead 49ers back to NFC title game

May 8, 2023 at 3:55 PM--

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If the San Francisco 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game during the upcoming season, it will be the fourth time they have done so in five years. However, it's still unclear which quarterback could be the one to get them there.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have declared that the starting job is Brock Purdy's to lose. All things being equal, he would likely be the undisputed QB1 this offseason. Things are a bit murkier at the moment, though.

On March 10, Purdy underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear in his right elbow. That has put his Week 1 availability in jeopardy. The situation leaves former No. 3 overall picks Trey Lance and Sam Darnold to compete to start the regular season should Purdy not be ready.

Shanahan tends to stick with the hot hand, so if one of the two impresses out of the gate, the coach may hesitate to change quarterbacks once Purdy is medically cleared.

One ESPN analyst believes the 49ers can return to the NFC Championship Game with Darnold at the helm of the offense.

"Sam Darnold is absolutely capable of taking this team back to the NFC Championship Game," Dan Orlovsky said Monday morning on ESPN's Get Up, per Angelina Martin of NBC Sports Bay Area. "I'm so excited to watch him if he's the guy in San Francisco with Brock Purdy a little bit banged up. Finally at a place that has the coaching, the offensive talent, the complete team to allow his talent -- one of the best talents that we've seen come out of college in years.

"I'm so excited, and I think he could be the guy that brings them back to the NFC Championship Game."

Orlovsky isn't the only one to recently praise the former New York Jets and Carolina Panthers quarterback. One 49ers insider's comments during a radio interview last week went viral.

"Sam Darnold might be the most—can I say this—the most talented thrower of the football that the 49ers have ever had," NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco said on KNBR. "... I think that he hasn't had really any chance to succeed since his college days [were] over. I think he's had like four head coaches in five years, five offensive coordinators in five years. He's a talented guy."

The respected 49ers reporter later clarified his comments.

"The wording made it clear Darnold also might not be the most talented thrower of the football the 49ers have ever had," Maiocco later wrote. "... But the statement that Darnold is physically-gifted should not be considered the least-bit controversial.

"After all, Darnold was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. His ability to throw the football is what made him a high draft pick out of USC."


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