Have you come down with a case of Zappe fever yet?
Typically, one of the initial symptoms features folks pulling out an old Adam Vinatieri No.4 jersey from their closet, putting some duct tape over the nameplate, grabbing a marker, and writing ZAPPE in big bold letters on the back. In severe cases, we've even heard reports of people babbling that this is the second coming -- a Day 3 draft selection beating out a former first-rounder to lead New England for years to come.
I'll admit, it's been a fun storyline to follow over these past few weeks. Truthfully, who knows how this QB controversy between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe is going to end up. There's no doubt the rookie's play has at least made this a conversation, and I largely concur with my that it may behoove Bill Belichick to ride the hot hand. That said, I am fascinated to see Jones' rebuttal whenever he gets back onto the field.
Naturally, this QB battle will garner analysis and headlines until it's resolved, but let's take a macro view of what this represents for a minute: Bill Belichick is starting to get on a heater at the NFL Draft.
Zappe's plug-and-play success as a rookie is just the tip of the iceberg in what has been a strong run by Belichick in recent drafts. Remember when the entire NFL was collectively scratching their heads at New England's draft last spring? Do you remember all the low-hanging Cole Strange puns when the team apparently reached for him in the first round? Well, through six weeks, this class has contributed in a big way (and that goes beyond Zappe). These rookies could be foundational pieces to the club's rebuild/retooling.
In the 38-15 trouncing of the Browns in Week 6, Strange started at left guard and allowed zero sacks and one pressure in 40 pass-blocking stats. Meanwhile, 2022 second-round selection Tyquan Thornton had two total touchdowns; third-rounder Marcus Jones had a pass breakup and was the club's main returner on both kickoffs and punts; and fourth-rounder Jack Jones is blossoming into a starting corner. Through six games (one start), he's allowed just a 33.7 passer rating against and did a strong job shutting down Amari Cooper when he was on him in Week 6.
When you add the 2021 class that is headlined by, of course, Jones, as well as running back Rhamondre Stevenson and defensive tackle Christian Barmore, there are pillars to a contending roster that are starting to take shape. If you want to go back to 2020 and include safety Kyle Dugger (second-round) and offensive guard Mike Onwenu (sixth-round), that further hammers home the point.
Belichick is finally starting to hit in the draft, which has been something that drastically eluded the franchise in the final years of Tom Brady. In 2019, the Patriots were 30th in the NFL in draft return, according to Football Outsiders. They were tied for 28th in 2018 and 32nd in 2017.
Arguably the worst of that dreadful run was 2019, which was headlined by the selection of N'Keal Harry with the 32nd overall instead of now Pro Bowlers Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and others. Of that class, only running Damien Harris, corner Joejuan Williams (injured reserve) and punter Jake Bailey are still on the roster. A year before that, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (No. 23 overall) and running back Sony Michel (No. 31) were taken in the first round, and neither has truly lived up to their draft billing, either. Michel has been off the roster for over a season, and Wynn is currently on the verge of being benched.
That's a long way of saying that things haven't gone so well for Belichick in the draft, until recently. So, whether it's Zappe or Jones who ultimately leads the Patriots, the club's recent success in the draft resulted in two quarterbacks capable of winning games. Had you mentioned that to someone a few years ago and added all of their other recent hits across the roster, you would've been laughed at.