Probably the most surprising pick the Patriots made in the 2022 NFL Draft came in the fourth round.
After shocking pundits and league executives around the league by selecting Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round, New England selected Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe with their third pick of the fourth round.
Zappe’s selection was interesting because the Patriots, of course, had selected quarterback Mac Jones with their first-round pick a year prior. Jones ended up having a strong rookie season, leading all rookie quarterbacks in major stats while helping New England reach the playoffs.
But for the Patriots, drafting Zappe was simply a matter of talent. The former Hilltopper certainly showed it in college, breaking FBS records for most passing yards (5,967) and most passing touchdowns (62) in a season in 2021.
Those are just two of the things that stood out for Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh when scouting Zappe.
“Yeah, you put on the Bailey Zappe movie and it’s hard not to like it,” Groh said. “That’s a lot of accomplishments, that’s a lot of touchdowns and that’s a lot of wins. This guy is a winner the way he is able to lead and command his team.
“He has a lot of good traits that you want in a quarterback. More importantly, the success, with the way he’s able to produce on the pitch and do what’s right for the team and get the ball back to the playmakers, that he’s been blessed with at Houston Baptist (where Zappe began his college career) and Western Kentucky.
“Coach [Tyson] Helton gave him a lot of responsibility and he really did a great job for his teams.
When Zappe arrives in New England, there won’t be a clear role for him on the pitch right away, which was certainly the reason for the confusion behind the pick. Not only do the Patriots have Jones as a starter for the foreseeable future (and the team is hoping for a long-term future), but they also have veteran Brian Hoyer backing and advising him.
Groh, however, reiterated that the addition of Zappe was primarily aimed at accumulating talented players.
“Yes, there’s always value in having good players on your team, and Bailey is a good player and he’s going to add value to our team,” Groh said. “It will be up to him to sort of determine the role that is here initially and then in the future. I think it might have been Mike last night asking about value, and there’s – anything at that quarterback position, yeah, one guy’s only in the field, but you better get one or two or three or whoever it is in the system coming up, because you never know when those guys are going to be needed, and if you’re short on that position, you’re gonna get some real trouble.
“Just like a college program that might take a highly recruited quarterback a year, you can’t really afford to skip a year. You have to have a lot of talent in this position, and we had the opportunity to add Bailey and tried to add good value at quarterback.
The Zappe selection wasn’t the only pick the Patriots used through the first four rounds in a position that wasn’t seen as a need. New England selected South Dakota running back St. Pierre Strong Jr. with one of its fourth-round picks. He also drafted South Carolina running back Kevin Harris with one of his sixth-round picks.
As with Zappe’s draft, doubling up as running back, especially after Harris’ pick, was about adding talent to the team.
“When you have the opportunity to add a really good player to your team, you want to capitalize on that,” Groh said. “Kevin under coach [Will] Muschamp, under trainer [Shane] Beamer, had a great career there in South Carolina, and really loves the way he plays and the things he’s been able to do under those two different systems.
When you see the value of adding a good piece to your team in this position with the way these guys – you know, how physical this game is, you can never have enough good guys to give the ball to. This guy is a very good runner, so we’re happy to add him to the team.
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