During last month’s NFL Draft, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said it was safe to expect the team to add a third quarterback to the roster, though he didn’t say when.
“We’re going to have another player here at this position,” Caserio said. “Where he comes from and how he gets here is sort of yet to be determined. There’s a few guys, I think, that we like and we feel comfortable with. Now it’s just a matter of how we get them on the team.”
The assumption was that New England would draft someone in the later rounds to join Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. But in fact, the Patriots waited until after the draft to sign Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke and Louisiana Tech’s J’Mar Smith as undrafted free agents.
The Patriots sometimes keep a third quarterback on the roster or stash an extra arm on the practice squad, so one of these two has a decent shot at making the team in some capacity.
Lewerke, 23, is hoping to follow in Hoyer’s steps as an undrafted free agent quarterback signed by the Patriots after a college career at Michigan State. He’s 6 feet 3 inches and 215 pounds and is a good athlete with a good deep ball who needs to work on his accuracy.
Lewerke left the Spartans with plenty of experience, having started 38 of 41 games in his four active seasons. He was a two-time team captain, something the Patriots prize, and is Michigan State’s career leader in total offense with 9,548 yards — 8,293 of them passing and 1,255 coming on the ground.
“I’ve always liked his demeanor,” Lewerke’s college quarterback coach, Mike Giovando, told the Detroit News. “I’ve always liked his personality, and he’s just got a way of you can tell that things don’t bother him.
"He’s athletic, you know, a really, really good athlete, and I think that he’s super intelligent. He’s a smart guy that understands football really well. He gets it and he’s got all those intangibles and the leadership ability, and he can throw the football, man. He can make the throws.
"There’s not a throw he really can’t make. He has a strong arm and he does a lot of things really, really, really well.”
Lewerke had his best season in 2019 after recovering from a shoulder injury the year before, completing 260 of 436 passes (59.6 percent) for 3,079 yards, with 17 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions while starting all 13 games. The touchdowns were a career high but so were the interceptions, so Lewerke would need to clean up his decision-making to last in the NFL.
Perhaps to do so ahead of time, Lewerke worked with former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels before some of the all-star games and the NFL Combine in February. According to Rosenfels’s social media posts, they made some adjustments to Lewerke’s motion and his drop, and Rosenfels called Lewerke “promising.”
Lewerke and Smith, the other undrafted quarterback, have a decent amount in common. They both got a lot of experience in college — Smith played in 43 games and made 38 starts at Louisiana Tech — and are smallish for the position but very good athletes.
Smith, another 23-year-old, is 6 feet 1 inch, 220 pounds. He left Louisiana Tech with a career 59.3 percent completion rate, having thrown 1,280 passes for 759 completions, 9,523 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.
One thing Smith has going for him is that he has less of an interception problem than Lewerke, especially last year. In 11 starts, Smith had a 64.3 percent completion rate while throwing for 2,977 yards and 18 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
Smith, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Kenny Smith (who had a brief stint with the Patriots), missed two games in November when he was suspended with two other teammates for violating an undisclosed team policy. He took responsibility for the mistake.
“I just feel like I let my guys down," Smith told the Monroe (La.) News-Star. "I let my team down; I let the offensive line down, for sure. We worked so hard to get on the same page, get the right connections going, get the right communication going. They were hurt, everybody else was hurt, but I felt the worst.”
Smith’s 4.84 40-yard dash isn’t quite as impressive as Lewerke’s 4.61, but on film, it’s clear he can move, and he also can use his body control to make some impressive off-balance throws. He’s a well-rounded athlete who also was drafted in the 24th round by the San Diego Padres in 2015, but chose football over baseball.
At Louisiana Tech, Smith added four rushing touchdowns in 2019 and could be a solid threat in some of New England’s run-pass-option concepts or, more realistically, mimicking other teams’ mobile quarterbacks as a scout-team player. Both Smith and Lewerke have that going for them.
Of the two, Lewerke looks a smidge more athletic, while Smith showed more growth over time in college. Going by the money, it seems Smith has the edge — or was at least more sought after — as the Patriots reportedly gave him $30,000 in guaranteed money, while Lewerke got $2,500.
However it works out, it seems the Patriots’ options for a third quarterback give them some added athleticism which, at minimum, could help the scout-team looks.