When the summer heats up and training camp commences, the Foxborough arms race will be on.
In addition to incumbents Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, the Patriots will welcome two rookie quarterback candidates as the club turns to a new field general in the post-Tom Brady Era.
Free agents J’Mar Smith and Brian Lewerke will throw their helmets in the quarterback ring, headlining a large contingent of undrafted skill players New England signed up shortly after the draft.
Smith is an intriguing prospect who possesses an excellent arm, good athleticism, and NFL bloodlines. His father, Kenny, played in 36 career games and was briefly a Patriots defensive lineman (2008), though he never suited up for the club.
In his three-year stay at Louisiana Tech, Smith threw for 9,523 yards, 51 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. He also ran for 15 TDs. Smith was the Conference USA Player of the Year in 2019 when he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. The knock on Smith was that his anticipation and pocket awareness need seasoning.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 218-pound Smith, who received a $5,000 signing bonus and $30,000 in total guarantees, also has something in common with Brady: He was drafted as a major league catcher. The San Diego Padres plucked him in the 24th round in 2015.
The Patriots don’t always keep a third QB, but if Smith has a strong summer showing, it’s possible new roster flexibility (practice squads are bumping to 12, game-week active rosters to 55, and game-day rosters to 48) could keep him in the mix.
If there’s a certain package of plays Smith proves proficient at, he could be elevated depending on possible matchups.
Here’s a look at the other undrafted rookie skill players who will look to call New England home in 2020.
▪ Brian Lewerke: A solid leader, this two-time captain at Michigan State (the new QB U?) was 22-6 as a starter, with 8,293 passing yards, 47 TDs and 32 picks.
A very smart player, Lewerke ($2,500 signing bonus, $2,500 in total guarantees)possesses nice footwork, timing, accuracy, and is used to playing against top competition week in and week out. A shoulder injury in 2018 seemingly cost him some of his arm strength but he can still get it there.
▪ Isaiah Zuber: One of four slot receivers on the list, the Mississippi State (via Kansas State) product was given the most of the quartet with a $10,000 signing bonus and $100,000 in total guarantees.
After three seasons at K-State (127 catches, 1,321 yards), the 6-foot, 190-pound burner spent a year at MSU, where he had 14 catches for 211 yards. He has good hands and quickness and will be in the mix at both punt and kick returner, where he excelled in college.
▪ Will Hastings: This Auburn spitfire has a leg up on the competition because of his solid rapport with Stidham. The 5-10, 174-pounder had 26 catches for 525 yards — an impressive 20.2 yards per catch for a slot guy — working with Stidham in 2017.
Hastings ($7,500, $57,500) also provides versatility, as he could be New England’s onside-kick specialist, a role he excelled at in high school and college.
▪ Sean Riley: Another diminutive but dominant receiver/returner, this 5-8, 178-pounder ranks fifth on Syracuse’s all-time all-purpose yardage list with 4,358.
Riley ($5,000, $15,000) has good hands, open-field vision, and toughness, and he caught 119 passes for the Orange. A durable player (he played in 49 of 49 possible games), he returned 50 punts for 563 yards and 115 kicks for 2,433 yards.
▪ Jeff Thomas: Discipline issues kept him off most draft boards, but there’s no denying this 5-10, 174-pound Miami receiver has the skills to thrive.
Thomas ($2,500, $2,500) is an excellent route runner who had 83 catches for 1,316 yards and 8 TDs. Additionally, he returned 54 kickoffs for 1,219 yards.
▪ Jake Burt: The former Boston College tight end doesn’t have a ton of statistical production, but injuries and the Eagles’ ground-heavy attack contributed to that.
Burt ($5,000, $85,000) has good size (6-3, 260) and hands and is a solid blocker. Burt’s athleticism is underrated, and it would come as no surprise if he finds himself in both the tight end and fullback conversations.
▪ J.J. Taylor: If watching highlights of this 5-6, 185-pound waterbug running back doesn’t get your blood pumping, perhaps World Series of Poker clips are more your style.
Taylor ($7,500, $100,000) is a chunk of muscle with powerful legs that churn like pistons through defenses. In 40 games at Arizona, he rushed for 3,263 yards and also had 62 catches for 487 yards. Additionally, he can return kicks.
Taylor faces an uphill climb at a position that’s deep in Foxborough, but he’ll get his chance to prove he belongs.