OTAs have started, and teams are getting an early look at their rosters heading into the 2023 NFL season.
Though position battles aren’t won or lost during this time, OTAs give a good idea of who will contribute and who won’t.
The Patriots have an interesting position battle on their hands for the starting quarterback. New England has two legit options to start under center to give them the best odds to win in Week 1 with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.
Jones enters his third season in the NFL, and though the former first-round draft pick has been the starter since his rookie year, he has regressed since then. Zappe, the Patriots’ fourth-round pick in 2022, comes into the season with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So who will come out on top in this quarterback battle?
The Case for Mac Jones
Even though Jones struggled last season, it wasn’t entirely his fault. With offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaving for Las Vegas, Matt Patricia stepped in to run the offense. As a result, the Patriots were in the league’s bottom half in nearly every offensive category.
Jones struggled in year two, throwing for 2,997 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 14 games. The Patriots were 6-8 in his starts, and the team missed the playoffs. Injuries also played a role, with Jones missing three games and being benched in his return in Week 7.
But the NFL saw a different Mac Jones his rookie year, who ended up being named a Pro Bowler. New England made the playoffs behind Jones, finishing with a 10-7 record. He threw for 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Jones finished the season with a 92.5 quarterback rating.
Now with Bill O’Brien in town as offensive coordinator, along with the arrival of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jones could take the next step in year three.
The Case for Bailey Zappe
Zappe entered last season as the third-string quarterback behind Jones and Brian Hoyer after being drafted in the fourth round. Hoyer started the Week 4 matchup against the Green Bay Packers with Jones out, but Zappe saw playing time that same game when Hoyer left the game with an injury.
In four games played (two starts), Zappe completed 70.7% of his passes and threw for 781 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions, along with a quarterback rating of 100.9. This included a 309-yard and two-touchdown performance against the Cleveland Browns in his second start.
In Zappe’s two starts, the Patriots scored 29 and 38 points, the two highest-scoring performances for the team on the year.
Zappe’s success shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he broke the NCAA record for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season during his final season at Western Kentucky.
Though the offense was humming with Zappe under center last year and fans calling for him to remain the starter, Bill Belichick needs to start the season with Jones.
The Patriots used a first-round pick on Jones, and there’s a new offensive coordinator in the building. However, there should be a short leash with him. If Jones continues to struggle after a few weeks, then the Patriots need to turn to Zappe.
Unless Zappe completely wows at camp, Jones should be the starter come Week 1.
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