Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of the Patriots’ undrafted rookie additions.
Name: J’Mar Smith
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-0, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? Smith may have just joined the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent, but he does bring some considerable experience playing the quarterback position to the table: during his five years at Louisiana Tech, he appeared in 44 games — 38 of which as a starter — and attempted a combined 1,280 passes of which he completed 759 (59.3%) for 9,523 yards, 51 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. As the Bulldogs’ QB1, he showed notable improvement every year.
What did his 2019 season look like? Smith decided to return to school for his redshirt senior season, and the decision was a good one. After all, he was able to build on his first two years as a starting quarterback and produced the best campaign of his college career: Smith started all 11 games he appeared in, and completed 236 of 367 passing attempts (64.3%) for 2,977 yards as well as 18 touchdowns and five interceptions — all while also adding four scores on the ground.
His natural arm talent and impressive athleticism were on display throughout the year, and helped him earn the Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Year award. Not all was positive for the son of former Patriots defensive lineman Kenny Smith, however: he was one of three players suspended in November for violating an undisclosed team policy. Smith missed two games. The 8-1 Bulldogs lost both contests during his absence.
What is his projected role? With second-year man Jarrett Stidham appearing to be the front-runner to earn the Patriots’ starting quarterback role this year, Smith will likely only fight for one of the backup roles behind him. Unless injury strikes, the undrafted rookie is therefore not expected to see any notable playing time in his first year in the system. That said, Smith should be used quite a bit in preseason and — if he makes either the 53-man roster or the practice squad — as a scout team QB as well.
What is his special teams value? Smith should not be counted on to have any impact on New England’s kicking game operation. While he could be used as a backup holder on field goal and extra point attempts — a role previously held by Tom Brady — his roster status will be the deciding factor in this regard: if he cannot be counted on to be on the game day roster on a week-to-week basis, he likely will not be trusted in that or any other special teams capacity.
Does he have positional versatility? While he does bring an intriguing athletic skillset to the table, Smith’s positional value is limited: he is a quarterback first and foremost. That said, he has proven himself a strong ball carrier and capable of running zone-read/RPO concepts. The Patriots could see value in having a quarterback like that on the roster or practice squad to help prepare for RPO-heavy teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs or the Houston Texans.
What is his salary cap situation? After going undrafted, Smith agreed to sign a standard three-year free agency contract with the Patriots. As part of it, he will be on the team’s books with a $611,666 salary cap hit (with only $1,666 guaranteed as part of his $5,000 signing bonus proration). Smith does therefore not count against New England’s cap until the top-51 rule gets lifted in September: his contract is not be among the 51 most valuable on the roster at the moment.
What is his roster outlook? Smith is currently joined in the Patriots’ quarterback room by three other passers: the aforementioned Jarrett Stidham, veteran Brian Hoyer, and fellow undrafted rookie Brian Lewerke. Stidham can be considered a lock to make the team, with Hoyer’s experience also making him a relatively safe bet to survive roster cutdown day. Smith and Lewerke, on the other hand, will fight for the third spot on the depth chart either on the roster or practice squad. The Louisiana Tech product may not bring ideal size to the contest, but his athleticism could proof valuable as noted above. Don’t be surprised if he is a part of the 2020 Patriots one way or another.