Bailey Zappe already has been written off as nothing more than a career backup in the NFL. In fact, some even have called the Patriots draftee a “flag-football” quarterback — an intended compliment.
But could the Western Kentucky product become more than just a clipboard-holder in the pros?
Zappe’s career in New England likely will be determined by the success or failures of Mac Jones, the current franchise quarterback. If Jones realizes his potential in Foxboro and stays healthy, Zappe likely will rarely see the field, potentially becoming trade bait down the road. Should things go sideways for Jones, things could get interesting.
When the Patriots took Zappe in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, many scratched their heads and wondered why Belichick targeted a quarterback, particularly when there were other higher-ranked signal-callers on the board. But Zappe’s intangibles — he earned the highest Wonderlic score of all quarterbacks before the draft — and underrated talent make it easy to envision him at least becoming Brian Hoyer 2.0 (and that’s a good thing).
We poured over Zappe’s senior-season film at Western Kentucky. And while the Drew Brees comparisons might be aggressive, it’s evident the 23-year-old has the potential to develop into a good NFL quarterback — in New England or somewhere else.
First, let’s go over his stats and combine measurables, as well as our initial strength/weakness takeaways.
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 215 pounds
Hands: 9 3/4 inches
Arms: 31 3/8 inches
Wingspan: 74 3/4 inches
40-yard dash: 4.88 seconds
Vertical jump: 30 inches
3-cone drill: 7.19 seconds
Bench press: N/A
2021 stats: 69.2% completion, 5,967 yards, 62 TDs, 11 INTs, 17 rush yards, three rush TDs
— Smart, productive player
— Poise/mobility in the pocket
— Good deep-ball accuracy
— Underrated athlete
— Not many “wow” throws
— Iffy decision-making that leads to turnovers
— Average arm talent
The top thing that stands out when you watch Zappe is just how prolific he is. A grad transfer from Houston Baptist (FCS), Zappe wound up breaking the single-season FBS passing yards and touchdowns records held by Joe Burrow and B.J. Symons, respectively. And after watching him, it’s no wonder why.
Zappe, described by WKU coaches as an “on-field coach,” was given full command of one of the most pass-heavy college offenses you’ll ever see. It was the Bailey Zappe show at all times, with him trusted to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage and control everything in the passing game.
Zappe made just about every throw you can come up with, with his accuracy and ability to get rid of the ball quickly causing problems for the opposing defenses. It’s hard to come away from his senior-season film without seeing why the Patriots believe he can run their offense the way they want it to be run.
Zappe’s ability to turn any given drive into a mosaic of various throws is very impressive. Just look at the first, third and fifth plays in this sequence:
However, Zappe is no dink-and-dunk quarterback. Aside from his pre- and post-snap execution, Zappe’s greatest strength might be his accuracy on deep balls.
A big factor in Zappe’s production was WKU’s ability to scheme receivers open. There weren’t many times when his average arm talent mattered, because his targets often were wide open.
That said, when necessary, Zappe put zip on his passes and made high-level throws.
This play is a strong example of great anticipation and ball placement:
Zappe’s pocket presence also stands out.
Here, he stays patient, looks off a safety and throws a dart for a big gain:
And on this play, he eludes the pass rush to give himself extra time and eventually make a nice, off-balance throw:
Zappe also isn’t afraid to try throws from different angles, though you shouldn’t expect him to channel Patrick Mahomes anytime soon.
Finally, Zappe by no means is a burner, but he definitely can use his legs to make plays when the situation calls for it.
Now, let’s get into the negatives.
Zappe will rush throws when he doesn’t need to, resulting in incompletions or turnovers.
Sometimes it looked like Zappe got locked into predetermined reads, leading to telegraphed passes and interceptions.
Even on plays that worked out, Zappe would showcase some iffy decision-making.
This is the kind of red-zone throw that could result in disaster at the NFL level:
Overall, Zappe is an intriguing quarterback who shows more upside than some recent mid-to-late-round Patriots quarterback fliers, such as Jarrett Stidham and Danny Etling. If he can dial back some of the recklessness, Zappe should have no problem reaching his floor as a competent NFL backup.
His below-average size and so-so arm talent might prevent him from becoming a consistent starter, and the subpar competition he faced in college also makes evaluating him somewhat difficult. Running a quick-hitting, high-volume passing attack for the Patriots is a different beast than doing so for Western Kentucky.
Nevertheless, the Patriots in many ways are the perfect team for Zappe, who should be given ample time to further refine the qualities that make him a good prospect, while reining in some of the rougher parts of his game.