With mandatory minicamp underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 85 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.
Name: Bailey Zappe
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 55)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-0, 215 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2025 (2026 UFA)
What is his experience? Entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick by the Patriots earlier this year — the team invested the 137th overall selection to bring him aboard — Zappe’s experience at the pro level is rather limited. He did participate in rookie minicamp and the rookie developmental program, and is part of New England’s organized team activities and mandatory minicamp; however, he has yet to appear in an actual game against NFL competition and will not do so until the start of preseason in mid-August.
Before joining the Patriots, however, Zappe played a lot of highly productive football. He totaled 52 touchdowns during his senior year in high school, and also posted some impressive numbers during his four-year career at Houston Baptist: he started 36 games and completed 60.9 percent of his pass attempts for 10,004 passing yards, 78 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. Zappe later transferred to Western Kentucky where re-wrote the NCAA record books during his 2021 season.
What did his 2021 season look like? A four-year starter at Houston Baptist, Zappe decided to enter the transfer portal after his 2020 campaign and take advantage of the NCAA’s special extra eligibility granted due to Covid-19. Several programs expressed interest in him, but he eventually went to Western Kentucky — following Huskies offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, who had just accepted the same position with the Hilltoppers. Like they were at HBU, Kittley and Zappe formed a prolific duo at their new program.
Prolific might be an understatement, though. Zappe, after all, had a record-breaking season. Starting all 14 of Western Kentucky’s games in 2021, he went 475-for-686 as a passer for a completion rate of 69.2 percent; he finished the year with 5,967 passing yards while also throwing 62 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. His yardage and touchdown totals both re-wrote the FBS record books, breaking the previous marks set by B.J. Symons in 2003 (5,833) and Joe Burrow in 2019 (60).
Along the way, Zappe helped the Hilltoppers achieve a 9-5 record — allowing him to surpass his win total in four years at Houston Baptist (eight) — while leading them to the Conference USA Championship Game and a 59-38 victory in the Boca Raton Bowl over Appalachian State. That final game of his college career did not just end with a win, it also was one of Zappe’s finest performances of the season: he completed 33 of 47 pass attempts for 422 yards and six touchdowns that day.
Zappe’s output in 2021 was nothing short of impressive, and earned him a spot on the All-C-USA first team as well as recognition as the conference’s most valuable player. That said, he joined a perfect situation when following Kittley to Western Kentucky. Not only did he already have experience in his Air Raid-style offense and was under the lowest pressure of any quarterback in college football (12.9%), he also had three of his former teammates at HBU — including his favorite wide receiver, Jerreth Sterns — transfer alongside him.
What is his projected role? One of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history, Zappe will play the same role in New England that he held during his five-year career at Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky. As such, he will serve as a developmental backup option behind the Patriots’ franchise quarterback, Mac Jones, as well as veteran Brian Hoyer. With Hoyer on the back-nine of his career, though, Zappe projects as a potential long-term QB2 behind Jones.
Does he have positional versatility? Zappe’s Relative Athletic Score — a grade given to each draft prospect based on his measurements — is a rather average 5.97 out of 10, ranking him as the 350th most athletic quarterback over the last 35 years. Accordingly, his positional versatility at the next level will be rather limited. While he might see some opportunities as a ball-carrier on scramble drills, sneaks or the occasional scripted run, the expectation is that he will be a classic pocket passer in New England’s system.
What is his special teams value? Just like the other two quarterbacks on the Patriots’ current roster, Zappe has little to no value on special teams. The only realistic action he might see in the game’s third phase might be as a backup holder on field goal and extra point attempts, but even that seems unlikely: the job of backing up regular holder Jake Bailey will likely go to either Mac Jones or Brian Hoyer based on the fact that they are safer bets to be on the game day roster on a week-to-week basis.
What is his salary cap situation? Even though he has not yet officially signed his rookie contract, Zappe will eventually receive a four-year deal at a total value of roughly $4.31 million. As for the first season of that pact, it will be structured in a pretty straight-forward fashion: Zappe will play on a $705,000 salary and also earn a $164,768 signing bonus proration resulting in a cap number of $866,768. Initially upon signing, only the fully-guaranteed signing bonus will count against the Patriots’ books under the NFL’s top-51 rule. As soon as Bailey makes the 53-man squad, however, his entire deal will hit the cap.
How safe is his roster spot? Even with Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer locked into their respective spots on the roster, Zappe is a safe bet to join them. The Patriots under Bill Belichick, after all, have never parted ways with a rookie player selected within the first four rounds of the draft. Even though he only projects as QB3 behind Jones and Hoyer, the youngster can therefore expect to be on the 53-man squad come the regular season.
One-sentence projection: Zappe will make the team but see most if not all of his in-game snaps this year during the Patriots’ preseason slate.