Patriot fans have become accustomed to the ever present undrafted free agent (UDFA) on the roster. Every opening day roster since 2004 has seen one or more UDFA’s, a total of 34 players over that span. This year there are 16 Patriot hopefuls looking to extend the streak and make the final 55. Let’s take a look at each player and how they can make the roster.
Take a look at our previous profiles here.
I don’t know why the Patriots signed Brian Lewerke. I have been racking my brain trying to figure out why for a few weeks now and it’s just not coming to me. Both Hoyer and Stidham are competing for the starting job, J’Mar Smith has far more upside and should take the majority of scout team reps, so why is Lewerke on the roster? It must be that the Patriots see something in him, so I am going to take a deep dive into what exactly that may be.
First some background, Lewerke was a three year starter at Michigan State. He led the Spartans to an overall record of 22-16, and was voted as a captain in his Junior and Senior seasons. His best season in East Lansing came in 2017, his first as a starter. As a sophomore Lewerke completed 246-of-417 passes (59%) for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for 559 yards on 124 carries (4.5 ypc). Michigan State finished the season 10-3 and won the Holiday Bowl over Washington State where Lewerke was named MVP.
In the two seasons since, Lewerke and Michigan State went a combined 12-13 as Lewerke threw for 25 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Why was there such a drop off? It’s hard to figure out. In terms of the team surrounding him, the defenses actually got better as did the rushing attack. There were no major coaching changes either. Ultimately the change lies solely in Lewerke himself.
When I went back to look at some film, the major difference between Lewerkes superb 2017 campaign and his disappointing 2018 and 2019 seasons came in his willingness to run. I demonstrated the differences over those seasons on Twitter (@keaganstiefel):
He shows nice pocket awareness and slips out to gain a few yards, he wasn’t Lamar Jackson or anything but the kid moved pretty damn well. (Also I’m pretty sure he’s never slid down in his life.) pic.twitter.com/dUSgC7OxoK— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) June 5, 2020
(25 yards vs. Maryland) pic.twitter.com/WkumF7lB0s— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) June 5, 2020
In 2018 and 2019 combined Lewerke ran for 547 yards and 5 touchdowns. Just about matching his 2017 totals. Not only did Lewerke stop pulling the ball down, Michigan State did away with the option for the most part.— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) June 5, 2020
Here he is throwing an awful interception in the 2018 Redbox Bowl against Oregon. He fumbles the snap and tries to throw it away but doesn’t have enough to get it to the sideline. Should have taken the sack. pic.twitter.com/aUk4AV5cy7— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) June 5, 2020
In the ever-changing world of college football it seems as if the philosophy behind Lewerke using his legs changed. Whether Michigan State was looking to develop him more as a pocket passer or felt like the option game was a crutch for him in his first year as starter, they went away from it. Whether Mike D’Antoni and his staff told Lewerke to stop running or if it was his own decision it ultimately led to a decline in his game. Lewerke isn’t going to sit in the pocket and pick you apart, but he can use his legs to keep defenses honest and buy himself time in the play action game.
Where he fits on this roster is a whole different ballgame. I personally don’t think there is a spot for him on the final 53. However I do believe there is a chance that the Patriots find a spot for him on the practice squad, if he shows the traits he did early in his college career he can be a valuable piece on scout teams to prepare the defense. He is athletic enough to play the role of different quarterbacks. Training camp will be interesting for Lewerke and will show where he may or may not fit. Quarterback may not be the only spot he sees training camp action.