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MORSE: Patriots Roster Analysis – Quarterbacks and Tight Ends

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
February 18, 2023 at 6:00 am ET

MORSE: Patriots Roster Analysis – Quarterbacks and Tight Ends(PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

This installment of the team post-season New England Patriots analysis will focus on the QB and TE positions.

Quarterback

I am not one of those people that think we should be moving on from Mac Jones.   I do believe we need a veteran backup QB while we continue to monitor the progress of Bailey Zappe.

Mac Jones  – He had a very rough sophomore year after having such a successful rookie year.  He did things in his rookie year that were unheard of for a rookie.  His 67.6 completion percentage tied the record set by Dak Prescott.  Jones was number one amongst all rookie QBs in Passing Yards (3801), TDs (22), and Passer Rating (92.5).  Coming into year two there were high expectations for Jones to continue his ascent among the NFL QBs.  Completely opposite of this, Jones regressed rapidly.  Several factors contributed to this.  First, losing Offensive Coordinator / QB coach Josh McDaniels (Raiders Head Coach) had a devastating effect on Jones.  McDaniels replacement was former Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia.  The new QB Coach was former NY Giants Head Coach Joe Judge.  Neither of these coaches has any offensive experience.  The second factor is the team changed the Offensive System.  The team stated they were simplifying the terminology of the offense.  Actually, they were dumbing down the offense so the two neophyte offensive coaches could understand.  What team changes the offense on a 2nd year QB?  It was remarkable and a credit to both Mac Jones and Josh McDaniels that Mac Jones could start from Day one and be so successful in his 1st year.

Another factor was the fact that so many offensive coaches from the previous year were gone.  The only holdover was TE coach Nick Caley and he wanted to leave and sign with McDaniels Raiders.  The Patriots denied the Raiders permission to speak with Caley.  They made Patricia an Offensive Line coach as well as Offensive Coordinator.

The Offensive Line was in shambles.  Free Agent and starting Guard /Backup Center Ted Karras couldn’t agree to a contract and they lost him due to a mere $1M.  Karras signed with Cincinnati.  He was named a Captain and went on to lead the Bengals’ O-line to the AFC Championship game.   The Patriots traded (gave away) Shaq Mason to create room under the salary cap.  They exercised the 5th year option on Isaiah Wynn and all he did was play like he didn’t want to be there.  Wynn had his guaranteed money and didn’t care.  In 9 games and 7 starts, he had 9 penalties (3 false starts, 6 offensive holding).  He finally went on IR in December.  The Patriots had to use their 1st round pick on a left guard (Cole Strange) and he played like a rookie.

The new offense called for stretch plays similar to those used in the Shanahan Offense.  The line struggled from the start trying to make these stretch blocks.  Matt Patricia was supposed to be the Offensive Line coach, but he spent all his time as Offensive Coordinator.  The line was left to inexperienced line coach Billy Yates.

As a rookie, Jones was blitzed more than any other QB in the league.  I thought he handled the blitz fairly well.  In his second year, the pressure really got to Jones mostly because of the poor O-line play.  His sacks went from 28 in 17 games to 34 in 14 games in 2022.  His TDs went down to 14 from 22 but his INT % remained the same at 2.5% (11 INT).

Jones showed his frustration many times with the offense and offensive playcalling.  He was seen swearing and screaming about throwing the ball downfield.  His demeanor was very disappointing and he showed a lot of immaturities.  That needs to be corrected with the new Offensive Coordinator/ QB Coach Bill O’Brien.  I have faith that Mac Jones can lead this team deep into the playoffs.  He needs some WR help.

Bailey Zappe – He filled in for Mac Jones when he got hurt with a high ankle sprain.  Zappe acquitted himself very well in the two starts, and both were victories.  His stats in the 4 games he played in were: 65 completions in 92 attempts for a 70.7 %, 781 yards, 8.5 average, 5 TDs to 3 INT, 2.6%, and he was sacked 6 times.   He played very well for a rookie.  It should give Patriots fans some sense of relief that the Patriots have two excellent young QBs.  There were some fans who wanted Zappe to replace Jones.  Those “Zappe Fever” fans are unrealistic.  Jones is the better QB and more likely to lead them deep into the playoffs.  The Patriots went with only two QBs last season after Hoyer was knocked out and went on IR.  I would like to see them draft another developmental QB late and keep him on the Practice Squad.

Brian Hoyer – Hoyer was the 2nd string QB and he replaced Mac Jones for the Oct 2nd start against Green Bay.  He was knocked out of the game with a concussion and was placed on IR a few days later.  Last spring he signed a two-year extension.  Hoyer is a great presence in the QB room and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as a coach when his playing days are over.  In 2023 he will be the 3rd QB and this will be his last in the league.

Tight Ends

Hunter Henry – He had a disappointing season in 2023 after collecting 9 TD passes in 20221.  His production dropped to just 2.  The number of receptions dropped to 41, down 9 and his yards dropped by 100.  The only positive was his yards after the catch went up.  Henry is better than this.  Again, the Patriots had coaches that didn’t know how to utilize their TEs.   I expect a better season in 2024 from Henry just because of Bill O’Brien.

Jonnu Smith – He has been a major disappointment since signing as a Free Agent in 2021.  Smith has not lived up to the salary he was given in 2021.  Dropping the ball had become his trademark.  In 2021 he had 28 catches on 48 targets for 294 yards and a TD in 16 games.  By comparison in 2022, he had 27 catches on 38 targets (a much-improved catch rate) for 245 yards and no TDs in just 14 games.  Smith is not a candidate to be cut for salary cap reasons because he restructured his contract pushing some of his bonus into the out years of the contract.  He is owed $11M this season and if he was to be cut, there would be a $19M dead money hit on the cap.   Smith is in his 3rd year of a 4-year contract and flat-out needs to improve.  He has the physical tools and Is just 27 years old.  Can Bill O’Brien reach into Smith‘s soul and pull out the players that he can be?

Scotty Washington – He played briefly in the Cincinnati game in week 16.  After the game, he was placed on Practice Squad IR.  He signed a futures contract with the Patriots at the season’s end.  He is 6’5” but only 217 lbs.  I think he is just camp fodder.   Washington spent 2020 and 2021 on the Bengals Practice Squad.  He was cut before opening day and signed to the Patriots Practice Squad in September.

Matt Sokol –At 6’5”, 249 lbs, that is the ideal size for a TE to be able to block inside and run pass routes.  He spent the entire year on the Practice Squad and was recalled 3 times for games vs the Lions, Dolphins, and Bills.  He reverted back to the Practice Squad after each game.  Sokol signed a futures contract in January.  Another camp fodder player.

Comings and Goings

Kristian Wilkerson along with two others was released by the Patriots this week.  I had high hopes for Wilkerson as a player that could crack the lineup and make a difference.  He didn’t make it through waivers and was snatched up by the Indianapolis Colts.  The Colts have the 4th priority in waivers.

Tae Hayes CB  and Quin Nordin K were the other two players.   Hayes played in two games and had 3 tackles.  Nordin out of Michigan was an Undrafted Free Agent.  He was the only UDFA signed by the Patriots in 2021.   Nordin was kept over Nick Folk for the 53-man roster.  That move kept the Patriots streak of having a UDFA make the final cutdown roster for 16 consecutive years (17 in 2023).

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About Mark Morse

Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.


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    Michael P. McGrath
    Michael P. McGrath
    1 year ago

    Good assessment. Fair and balanced article. Best way to screw up a young QB? Have different OCs each year. A better way? Have his second year OC and QB coaches have absolutely no experience at those positions. You really have to wonder what BB was thinking. He is super smart. I do not believe he got dumb over night. The only thing that makes sense is he wanted O’Brien but knew he had to wait a year. Knowing it was a non-championship year no matter what rather than hire an “interim” OC he instead went with Judge and Patricia. Almost… Read more »

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