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Fourth Round Shadow


September 23, 2001, the New York Jets, and Mo Lewis in particular helped to give birth to the NFL's most prolific franchise. Delivering a devastating hit to the New England Patriots starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, one could say he is largely responsible for the 20 years that followed. A sixth round pick out of Michigan, who could not even beat out Drew Henson to start at quarterback, would be put in to finish the game. The Patriots lost 10-3, but several weeks later, when Bledsoe was ready to return to the field, Bill Belichick made the decision to bench the leagues highest paid player, in favor of Tom Brady, and then he won 6 Super Bowls.


Small School, Big Numbers

Like Tom Brady, Bailey Zappe is not a fluke. He is not a flash in the pan, or footballs newest version of Linsanity. To understand that, you have to understand his 2021 college football season. It was his senior year, and the only year he played division 1 college football. He transferred to Western Kentucky, and rewrote the record books, while nobody was looking. How did he handle his first big time college game? Going 28 for 35 (80%), tossing for 424 yards, 7 touchdowns and 1 interception. The following week against Army, he went 28 of 40 (70%) for 435 yards, 3 TD's and 1 INT. Then against Indiana, 31 of 44 (71%) for 365 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. And then against #17 Michigan State, he went 46 of 64 (72%) for 488 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.


By the time the smoke had settle on the season, he had thrown for an NCAA record 5,967 yards, and NCAA record 62 Touchdowns. And yet nobody knew who he was, except the scouting department in Gillette Stadium. With the 137th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Patriots took Bailey Zappe ahead of bigger name QB's from bigger schools (Sam Howell of UNC, and Brock Purdy of Iowa State).


Not the same, But similar

Bailey Zappe was not put into the game when Mac Jones got hurt. The Patriots chose instead to start veteran Brian Hoyer against the Green Bay Packers. He would leave early with a concussion, and the rookie QB would look very good running a conservative game plan, and almost beating Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau, in his first NFL action.

He improved the following week against the Lions in a 29-0 thumping, led mostly by the defense. And then last week against Cleveland, Zappe threw for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns. Zappe fever has reach an alarming temperature in New England, and fans with visions of the next Brady are calling for him to start the rest of the season.


Mac vs Zappe

Mac Jones had an amazing rookie season. Arguably the best rookie season ever for a quarterback. That was, however, under offensive genius and coordinator Josh McDaniels. Under the current play caller, Matt Patricia, Jones has looked embarrassingly bad. He has 2 touchdowns to 5 interceptions, while Zappe has posted a 4:1 ratio.


Numbers only tell part of the story though, and the rest has to be seen to be understood. While Mac Jones defenders will talk about how his playbook was more aggressive than Zappes, which led to bigger risk taking, this isn't about play calling. It's about 2 things that are not tracked as statistics, but greatly affect the stats. Pocket presence and read progression. Mac has seemed unable to navigate the pocket when it collapses or when he feels pressure. He has been prone to either throw lobs off hbis back foot, or run into a blitzing player. Zappe on the other hand has side stepped linebackers, and rolled out confidently to throw tight spirals into his receivers hands.


Mac would also wait for his top receiver to get open a little too long, while Zappe skips through the routes til he finds an open man or a mismatch. When all is said and done, dcespite one player being a first round pick from Alabama and tghe other being a fourth round pick from Western Kentucky, there is very little difference in their skill set. And all things being equal, you need to ride the hot hand. Bill knows that. He's done it before, and he may do it again. Why else will not call Mac his starter?