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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Natalie Miller

Did the rest of the NFL miss big on Bailey Zappe?

Back in April, there seemed to be a general consensus among NFL teams that there might not be a single quarterback prospect worthy of a first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Ultimately, only Kenny Pickett was selected in the first round, at No. 20 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

117 picks later, the New England Patriots selected Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe in the fourth round.

Zappe was a record-setter in college, dropping over 5,900 passing yards and a ridiculous 62 touchdown passes in his only season with the Hilltoppers. He immediately clicked with his long-time coach from Houston Baptist, Zach Kittley, exploding in a system designed to spread teams out and rely on Zappe’s decision-making and understanding of the defense. He exceled in the diagnoses of defenses and understanding where mismatches were, and took full advantage of an advantageous offense.

The Patriots were apparently convinced by the numbers and the film, as they made a relatively rich investment in a would-be backup quarterback, just one year after spending their first-round pick on Alabama national champ Mac Jones.

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

While the fourth round isn’t exactly the pinnacle of the quarterback marketplace, it was still a noteworthy spot for Zappe to land in New England. Zappe’s tape left a lot to question about raw arm strength, and an awkward throwing motion that would likely make tighter window throws down the field extra difficult. The throwing motion was at least fixable, though, and you can make adjustments for a quarterback with a less-than-ideal arm, as the football intelligence and decision-making were likely too tempting to ignore, especially from a backup standpoint.

Zappe has been thrown into the fire as a rookie, as injuries to both Jones and veteran Brian Hoyer forced the former third-stringer into action. Playing in three games and starting two, Zappe was able to win both starts, and barely lost in overtime to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field after being thrust into the lineup for the injured Hoyer.

During his limited playing time, Zappe has been the highest-rated rookie signal-caller in the league with a quarterback rating of 111.4, averaging a 72.9 completion percentage, and tossing four touchdowns to just one interception. While those aren’t the same gaudy numbers he put up in college, it’s impressive that he’s been able to come in and win right away, and speaks to his ability to pick things up quickly in a complicated offense.

While it seems highly unlikely that Zappe will remain the starter once Jones gets back to full strength, it is hard not to think he should have been taken much earlier in the draft, as the tape shows a lot of his skills from college have quickly translated well to the next level.

Hopefully, he’ll be able to develop and grow further in New England before ultimately getting a well-deserved shot at a starting job elsewhere.

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