After losing Tom Brady in free agency and cutting Cody Kessler, it was a given that the New England Patriots would take a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, right?
The Patriots spent 10 picks and didn’t come away with a QB. They did, however, sign two signal-callers after the draft as rookie free agents. Louisiana Tech’s J’Mar Smith is the more intriguing player with higher upside. He took home more guaranteed money and a bigger signing bonus than Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke, who was probably the more well-known name to big-time college football fans.
Lewerke also is an interesting player. His biggest strength is his major-league arm. Lewerke can make all of the throws, and he tosses the ball deep with ease. As a senior in 2019, Lewerke completed 20-of-41 deep passes with six touchdowns and three interceptions, per Pro Football Focus.
He also was surprisingly mobile given his testing numbers. Lewerke carried the ball 346 times for 1,255 yards with 10 touchdowns and caught four passes for 32 yards with a score in four seasons. His rushing totals should be higher, but the NCAA subtracts yards for sacks.
Lewerke ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash with a 4.4-second short shuttle and 7.14-second 3-cone drill. Only his 3-cone was an above-average time for a quarterback.
Over his final season in East Lansing, Lewerke completed 59.6 percent of his passes for 3,079 yards with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He never completed even 60 percent of his passes in three years as a starter at Michigan State. His numbers were dreadful in 2018 when he completed 54.3 percent of his passes with an 8:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He was much better in his first year as a starter in 2017.
Lewerke’s accuracy, outside of his deep throws, is an issue. He went just 57-of-118 with four touchdowns and six interceptions on intermediate throws, per PFF. Needless to say, most quarterbacks complete more of their passes from 10-to-19 yards than they do from 20-yards plus.
Lewerke’s lack of accuracy shows up on tape too, whether it’s an errant screen pass, a ball hitting his intended target’s feet or winding up in a defender’s arms. The ball simply didn’t arrive at its intended target with enough regularity. His decision-making also could be questioned at times.
While Lewerke’s big arm and mobility are pluses valued in the NFL, his propensity for misthrown passes and turnovers is the reason he went undrafted.
In some ways, Lewerke is like a poor man’s Jarrett Stidham. Both players showed potential early in their college careers, took a step back, never seemingly reached their full potential, throw a pretty deep ball, are well-regarded off of the field and aren’t afraid to scramble despite only average athleticism. Lewerke never reached Stidham’s highs, had a far worse junior season and turned the ball over with much more regularity, however.
The Patriots will likely try to harness Lewerke’s arm strength and fix his inaccuracy once they get him in the building at Gillette Stadium. It’s tough that they aren’t getting to spend time in OTAs and minicamp with him. Their time together in training camp and the preseason might not be enough to get Lewerke in working order.
Lewerke is a practice squad candidate, but it would be truly shocking if he beat out Stidham or Brian Hoyer for a backup job. If — and that’s a big if — the Patriots can fix Lewerke’s accuracy issues, then perhaps he could be a backup at some point in his NFL career. It will be an uphill climb, and that’s his ceiling.