FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Happy with Zappe: One of the more compelling moments of ESPN’s broadcast on the third day of the 2022 NFL draft came when the Patriots selected Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe late in the fourth round (No. 137).
Host Rece Davis said what many who follow the Patriots might have been thinking: Help me understand this pick — especially after selecting Mac Jones in the first round the year before, and with other notable needs, particularly on defense.
It sparked an insightful discussion with analysts Todd McShay and Louis Riddick, which covered how it can be good business to draft and develop quarterbacks.
That was on point to former NFL GM Randy Mueller, who served in the front offices of the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins, and was named NFL Executive of the Year in 2000 while with the Saints. He applauded the Zappe pick.
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“I wasn’t surprised. At that point in the draft, you’re trying to identify traits with players that maybe not everybody sees. And I think Bill [Belichick] and his crew have done as good a job at that as any, across the board at all positions,” Mueller said.
“I see a lot of positives in Bailey Zappe. When you get to the third day of the draft, I think it’s too much to turn your back on, regardless of position. Everybody seems to want to fill needs throughout [the draft], but I’m more about getting the best group of players and not bypassing good players to fill needs. And I think Bailey was one of those guys, although I don’t think everyone sees that.”
Mueller, who now runs Mueller Football Advising Services, studied all quarterbacks in the draft. While the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Zappe was the fifth selected, Mueller rated him No. 2 behind only first-round pick Kenny Pickett (No. 20 to the Steelers).
“Everyone’s criteria is always a little different, but what I saw is a guy who sees, anticipates and processes, all from the pocket, combined with some accuracy and the ability to make all the throws because he has plenty of arm,” Mueller said.
“I’m not looking for 6-foot tall quarterbacks, per se, but he plays a lot bigger than that. The fact he has the vision and anticipation from the pocket; I’m not saying he’s Drew Brees or Russell Wilson or anything, but … he trends more in that line just because of that anticipatory skill set.”
Zappe’s production was off the charts in 2021, when he completed 475 of 686 (69.2%) passes for 5,967 yards, with 61 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He had transferred to Western Kentucky from Houston Baptist, following his offensive coordinator, Zach Kittley.
Mueller noted the system Zappe ran, coupled with his production and skill set, in rating him so highly.
“The other guys, for me, there’s a leap of faith in the ability to process, to anticipate, to throw on time and to still be athletic enough to move within the pocket,” he said.
“I think he’s a natural, throws with the right trajectory, with touch. A lot of second- and third-level things he does, I’ve seen pro quarterbacks after four, five years still not be able to do. So I think he’s further along the learning curve than most give him credit for.”
2. Mueller’s memory: When Mueller spent 2002 to 2005 working as an analyst for ESPN, he visited Patriots practice — the first time he had attended a training camp other than with a club for which he worked. One thing he saw that day resonated.
“I remember watching Tom Brady, this was in Year 3 or 4 of his career, and his attention to detail with his footwork within the pocket. The fact he was still working on that stuff stuck with me forever,” Mueller said, adding that it altered his view when evaluating the position.
“I think that’s one of the things Tom doesn’t get enough credit for — the [movement] within the pocket — with footwork and everything else. I also saw some of that with Bailey [Zappe].”
3. Early riser: Patriots assistant Joe Judge, who is working with the quarterbacks, said Zappe was at the team facility very early Tuesday morning “trying to get ahead.” Such diligence is often the best way to make a solid first impression on coaches. It also might have been necessary, as Zappe, receiver Tyquan Thornton and running back Pierre Strong Jr. left town later in the week to attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in California, the annual event that introduces top marketable rookies to sponsors.
4. Kraft’s note: Who knew? When Patriots owner Robert Kraft received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sports Business Journal on Wednesday night, Eli Manning told the crowd how he received a handwritten congratulatory note from Kraft about five days after Manning’s Giants shocked the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. “The impact of a handwritten note has left an impression on me after all these years,” Manning said.
5. Vince’s honor: The date for Vince Wilfork’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony is TBD, but it would be fitting if he were honored at halftime of the home opener Sept. 25 against the Ravens. That’s because Wilfork said if there is one game that stands out in his career, it’s the 23-20 win against Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 22, 2012, when he rose up in the fourth quarter to make two clutch plays on defense — ripping down running back Ray Rice on a third-and-3 run and then harassing quarterback Joe Flacco on a fourth-down stop.
6. Perkins’ prep: The Patriots have a notable void at outside linebacker opposite Matthew Judon, and 2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins (Oklahoma) is one candidate to fill it. Perkins didn’t appear in a regular-season game as a rookie, in part because he was buried on the depth chart behind Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and others. Outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick said Perkins has stayed in Foxborough throughout the offseason to put himself in the best position to “take a step forward.”
“All that really matters at the end of the day is what happens when we put the pads on,” Belichick said. “But he’s done everything right to this point.”
7. Wade’s fresh start: The Patriots traded fifth- and seventh-round picks to acquire rookie cornerback Shaun Wade from the Ravens last September, but he appeared in only three games as a reserve because of a combination of acclimating to a new system and injuries. Cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino said it’s a “fresh start” for the 6-foot-1, 191-pound Wade, who is “a longer guy with good quickness.” Pellegrino also noted that Wade has improved this offseason after targeting a couple of undisclosed coaching points.
The Patriots have a wide-open competition at cornerback that also includes Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones and Terrance Mitchell, and Pellegrino repeated multiple times the “best guys will play.”
Where Wade fits — similar to Perkins at outside linebacker — is one of several under-the-radar offseason storylines for New England.
8. Fins up: Why are the Patriots opening the season with the Dolphins for the third straight year? Partly because Miami requested to be on the road in Week 2 because of a Lady Gaga concert at Hard Rock Stadium that week. So that increased the odds they would be at home opening week, narrowing their opponent options to seven teams (Buffalo was already locked into facing the Rams). The Patriots were the pick when balancing other considerations, but don’t expect a Patriots-Dolphins Sunday opener in 2023. “I assure you we’ll keep an eye on New England-Miami in Week 1 next year,” said NFL VP of Broadcasting Mike North.
9. Walsh’s legacy: Ross Douglas joined the Patriots in 2021 with the official title of NFL coaching fellowship/defense, and he’s flipped to work with receivers alongside Troy Brown this spring. The Avon, Ohio, native credits New England director of skill development Joe Kim for helping him get his foot in the door, as Douglas first met Kim when he took his taekwondo class as a 5-year-old. He also credits the late Bill Walsh, because Douglas’ position was made possible through his diversity fellowship program.
“It means absolutely everything to me,” Douglas said. “A lot of good college football coaches and a lot of talented minorities, it’s hard to get into NFL buildings — whether it’s because of lack of resources, lack of connections. So that’s our gateway.”
10. Did you know? There were four NFL teams that played their first two regular-season games on the road last season, which is how the Patriots will open their 2022 season (at Miami and Pittsburgh). The 49ers and Broncos won both games, the Cowboys split, and the Vikings lost both.