Two years ago, Bailey Zappe was quarterbacking Houston Baptist at the FCS level. Fast forward to now and Zappe has led the New England Patriots to back-to-back wins as their starting quarterback — quite the jump.
“I had a little confidence that I’d be able to make it in myself,” Zappe said Wednesday. “But for me it’s still surreal to be in this position and be in the NFL, be a quarterback in the NFL. I don’t think it would ever come to me that I’m playing in the NFL. I still think I’ll always take advantage of every day and live this dream that I’ve had since I was five.”
The fourth-round rookie has exceeded expectations in his two-plus games in the NFL, showcasing excellent field vision, processing speed, and pocket movement. Among all quarterbacks with at least 80 drop backs this season, Zappe is fifth in EPA per play (+0.19) while leading all passers in completion percentage over expected (8.9 percent).
Bailey Zappe's pocket movement was awesome on Sunday. Some high level QB play. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/ACbAxN2M2N— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) October 18, 2022
With Zappe at the helm, the Patriots have leaned on play-action passing from under center. At the start of the season with Mac Jones, New England threw from under center just 10 percent of the time while using play-action on a measly 10.8 percent of Jones’ throws. As for Zappe, he is under center for 21 percent of his drop-backs with a play-action rate of 31.6 percent.
It’s a noteworthy change, as Zappe spent his final collegiate season at Western Kentucky playing strictly from the shotgun. But, the rookie has been excellent using play-action from under center, connecting on 18-of-his-21 play-action attempts for 322 yards and three scores.
“Definitely have learned a lot in that aspect,” Zappe said. “That’s something I never really did in college or high school, so when I came here it was kind of a little new world for me. But learning those things that’s something I had to do to be in this position and be in this league. Of course, there are some things I could continue to work on but that’s the great thing about it in practice.
“That’s some stuff like getting snaps with centers before and after practice. Getting with the running backs before and after practice. Just getting that extra work in outside of the two and a half hours or however many hours we have practice wise.”
Zappe’s play under pressure of late has also been impressive after rightfully struggling with his internal clock in his first NFL experience at Lambeau Field. Being under pressure on 36.1 percent against the Browns on Sunday, the rookie handled it well and made two of his better throws of the day to Tyquan Thornton and Rhamondre Stevenson.
“I think it’s really just taking it day-by-day, every day getting better, getting more comfortable, understanding the plays and understanding the concepts. Really just taking it — as we keep saying — day-by-day and really just getting better every day with it.” he said.
While’s Zappe’s play has been exceptional since taking over, it’s important to note it has come against two of the worst statistical defenses in the league this season. And according to Pro Football Focus, Zappe has yet to connect “big time throw” downfield, something Jones was averaging two per game.
The question as to whether Zappe will continue to have this level of success when he’s forced to make things happen on his own are fair. But, he has passed his first two tests with flying colors. Now with Mac Jones nearing a return, the Patriots may have an interesting decision to make at the quarterback position.
For Zappe, however, he is just continuing to go about his ways regardless of Jones’s status.
“As far as preparation nothing’s going to change,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the last seven weeks now. With the Monday game we kind of get an extra day to get on to the Bears. Just this week working on some things that we saw the last few weeks of the film. Like fundamental-wise, working on that in practice but other than that nothing’s really going to change at all.”
No matter what happens in the future with New England’s quarterback position, Zappe will stay focused on taking advantage of any opportunity thrown his way.
“That’s 100 percent my goal, and it’s very important because you don’t know when your next opportunity is going to come,” Zappe said Wednesday. “So, I think once you get that opportunity you’ve got to take advantage of it and hope you get another one.”