The Patriots didn’t do a lot of wheeling and dealing Saturday, but the club did make some moves to keep the chains moving.
New England went on the offensive on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, using five of its seven picks on that side of the ball. The Patriots double dipped at running back, added one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history, and a pair of offensive linemen.
“Really excited to add these seven young men to the team and just going to try an add pieces to get better,” said Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh.
Quarterback Bailey Zappe, who owns the FBS single-season records for passing yards (5,967) and touchdown passes (62), was perhaps the most surprising pick of the Patriots’ 10-player haul. He was taken in the fourth round with the 137th overall selection.
Zappe was the Conference USA player of the year in 2021, his lone season at Western Kentucky after four seasons at Houston Baptist, and said it was “a dream come true” to get the call. He is eager to start “playing some football” and working with incumbent starter Mac Jones.
“He’s a phenomenal quarterback,” Zappe said of New England’s starter. “A great QB, as are the rest of the QBs in the room. I’m looking forward to learning from all three of those guys. Getting up there, meeting them, and doing as much as I can to help the team. I’m just really excited for this opportunity.”
Zappe, who scored the highest marks of all QBs on the Wonderlic test (35), has great pre-snap recognition, a lightning release, and superb accuracy.
While acknowledging he has a long way to go, he said, “being a part of this organization, I’ll be able to learn from so many coaches and players.”
At just a shade over 6 feet and lacking the cannon arm of some, Zappe, the eighth QB drafted by Bill Belichick since 2010, knew he’d have some detractors, but he preferred to accentuate the positive.
“I don’t really worry too much about the naysayers and the critics,” he said. “The Patriots believed in me, and those are the guys that — coaches and players and the organization as a whole — believed in me, and those are the guys I’m going to try to prove right, that the pick was the right one.”
Groh said it’ll be up to Zappe to “carve out a role for himself,” and added that you can never have enough value at the quarterback position.
“You put on the film of Bailey Zappe and it’s hard not to like him,” he said. “It’s a lot of completions, it’s a lot of touchdown passes, and it’s a lot of wins. This guy’s a winner … He’s got a lot of great traits you want in a quarterback.”
New England started its day by adding Arizona State cornerback Jack Jones with the first of its three fourth-rounders. Jones started at Southern Cal, but was dismissed for academic reasons before being arrested in 2018 for his involvement in a robbery at a fast-food restaurant. He was placed on probation as part of a plea agreement and, after a year in junior college to improve his grades, played three seasons in Tempe.
He said he “learned” from his arrest and that he’s “looking forward to moving forward.”
In 26 games, Jones, who had impressive mirror skills and stickiness, had 20 passes defensed and 6 interceptions.
Belichick then sandwiched the Zappe pick with a pair of running backs in Pierre Strong (fourth round, No. 127) from South Dakota State and Kevin Harris (sixth round, No. 183) from South Carolina. It marked the first time the Patriots took two backs since 2011, when Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were tapped.
Strong is a versatile player coming off a stellar four-year career that included 4,527 rushing yards, plus 62 catches for 581 yards, and 43 total touchdowns. He has excellent vision and shiftiness, and will make defenders miss.
“I’m more of a do-anything-for-the-team type of guy . . . just helping the team out any way I can. Out of the backfield, special teams, anything of that nature, so that’s just my style,” the 5-foot-11-inch, 207-pound Strong said.
Harris (5-10, 221 pounds) has a compact build, and runs with pad level and balance. He’s a one-cut-and-go runner who will hit holes and build steam. When he’s at top speed, he’ll run defenders over like a locomotive. He rushed for 1,138 yards and 15 TDs as a sophomore, but a series of injuries (back, knee) cut his production to 660 yards in 2021. The stat that likely endeared him to Belichick & Co. was one career fumble.
New England snagged defensive tackle Sam Roberts from Division 2 Northwest Missouri State with its second sixth rounder, No. 200. Roberts (6-5, 293 pounds) collected 18.5 sacks and 5 blocked kicks in his career.
Roberts, who said he grew up a Patriots fan — Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork were personal favorites — was named the Cliff Harris Award winner as the nation’s best non-Division 1 defender.
“It’s a fairy tale ending to end up here," Roberts said.
The club closed out the draft with two offensive linemen, LSU’s Chasen Hines (sixth round, No. 210) and Michigan’s Andrew Stueber (seventh round, No. 245).
Hines (6-3, 327 pounds) made 16 starts at right guard, another at left guard, and also was the Tigers’ backup center. He’s a wide body with exceptionally long arms.
Stueber, a Darien, Conn., native, said he has “loved the Patriots team and organization” his whole life. He started 20 games at right tackle and two at right guard for the Wolverines, and also took center snaps during Senior Bowl week.
“Versatility is the name of the game at the next level,” said Stueber, the fifth Michigan player the Patriots have drafted since 2019.