Patriots Using Highest-Paid Undrafted Rookie In New Way At OTAs

'Just seeing him do the things he's doing at receiver, it's a thumbs-up from me'


May 31, 2023

FOXBORO, Mass. — Malik Cunningham exclusively played quarterback at Louisville, and that’s his listed position on the New England Patriots’ official roster.

But when the Patriots took the field Wednesday for organized team activities, Cunningham spent more time with Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton than he did with Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley.

The undrafted rookie did not take a single rep behind center until after practice, when he stepped in at QB for a brief 11-on-11 drill with Patriots scout-teamers. He spent most of the morning catching passes rather than throwing them, at one point adjusting his body to make a nice grab over the middle on a throw from third-stringer McSorley.

Cunningham also wore a white practice jersey while the Patriots’ other three QBs sported the customary red.

Thornton, the Patriots’ second-year wideout, likes what he’s seen from Cunningham, who reportedly told teams before the draft that he’d be open to changing positions in the NFL.

“Just seeing him do the things he’s doing at receiver, it’s a thumbs-up from me,” the 2022 second-round draft pick said after practice.

Cunningham played quarterback during the Patriots’ rookie minicamp, according to photos released by the team, so it’s unclear exactly how New England plans to utilize him as he makes his case for a 53-man roster spot. It clearly was intrigued by his skill set, however, as his contract includes the most guaranteed money ever for a Patriots UDFA ($200,000).

The 24-year-old was a four-year starter at quarterback for Louisville, but he’s undersized for the position by NFL standards (6 feet, 188 pounds) and passed for just 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns in his final collegiate season. He was a weapon in the run game for the Cardinals, however, leading all FBS QBs with 1,031 rushing yards in 2021 and racking up 50 rushing touchdowns in his career with a 5.1 yards-per-carry average. The athleticism that made him such a playmaker was on full display at the NFL Scouting Combine, at which he tested in the 95th percentile for QBs in the 40-yard dash with a 97th-percentile 10-yard split.

Cunningham’s path to a roster spot won’t be easy regardless of which position he plays, but proving he has the versatility to play multiple spots would only help his chances.

At least one undrafted rookie has made the Patriots’ Week 1 roster in each of the last 19 seasons.

Thumbnail photo via Vasha Hunt/USA TODAY Sports Images
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