Justin Fields and Bailey Zappe are two very different players, but both quarterbacks are set to lead their squads into a Monday Night Football battle in Week 7. A year ago, comparing the two athletes would seem like a fantasy land, as Fields was the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and Zappe was still setting NCAA passing records for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Yet, here they are a year later, and Zappe finds himself starting for the New England Patriots after being the 137th overall pick in April’s NFL draft after Mac Jones suffered a high ankle sprain, keeping the former first-rounder out of action. Fields is in the midst of his first full season as a starter, but his lightbulb doesn’t look nearly as bright as it did coming out of Ohio State. Both QBs are 23 years old, one’s a former first-round pick, and one’s a former fourth-round pick, but Zappe’s the one who’s on track for a better future.
New England Patriots’ starting QB gig could be Bailey Zappe’s to lose
Espected to be the team’s third-string quarterback behind Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer when the season began, Zappe has instead started two games and has played a good portion of another in his rookie season. Now, with Jones out for Sunday’s contest against the Chicago Bears, the 6-foot-1 quarterback is set for his fourth career NFL start.
Zappe immediately provided a spark for an offense that ranked 25th in points per game, averaging 16.7 per contest before he made his debut in Week 3. Now the Patriots rank 12th in scoring, averaging a robust 23.5 points per game, which is enough to make a postseason push if the trend holds.
It’s impossible to ignore the impact Zappe has had in Boston. Meanwhile, head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t wanted to make much of the situation, simply choosing to play it by ear until Jones’s ankle can return to health. Yet, first downs and touchdowns are hard to ignore, and wins are obviously even better. If Zappe gets near the 29 or 38 points he led the Pats to in his first two starts, why shouldn’t Belichick consider keeping the first-year pro in a starting role all season long?
Chicago Bears don’t care about Justin Fields
Zappe’s arrow is pointed straight up. As a mid-round pick, he and the Patriots truly have nothing to lose by seeing what they have in the rookie. But the Chicago Bears are in trouble with Justin Fields. Only, they don’t seem to see it that way or even really care.
A year after trading up to select the former Buckeyes QB 11th overall, the Bears fired the decision-makers who struck that exact deal. Current general manager Ryan Poles hasn’t shown any commitment to Fields and being that he was never his preferred QB choice, he doesn’t really need to. Still, Fields is a first-round QB, and the Bears should be doing everything possible to put this young man in a position to thrive, only we just haven’t seen that, at all.
Keeping Allen Robinson in town may not have made much sense for a team that was always destined for a rebuild, but the Bears should have done more to reinforce the offensive line, especially since Poles is a former offensive lineman himself. He understands the value of building in the trenches, yet again, we haven’t seen it.
Instead, Fields has a WR2 in Darnell Mooney, who has blazing speed (4.38 40-yard dash) and has shown great hands, but at 5-foot-11, will never be a top option in a productive offense. In addition to a questionable amount of high-end talent, the QB plays behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, who’s allowing Fields to be pressured on a league-high 50.3% of his dropbacks.
Yet, Fields himself is also to blame for their struggles, as he’s not adapting. The second-year-pro averages just over three seconds to throw, which is the second-slowest time among QBs in 2022. Fields needs to speed up his process, but even if he did, could his receivers do much with the extra opportunities?
Zappe’s not afraid to sling it
What’s been incredible about Zappe’s early success is just how fearless he’s playing. It’s like Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off the bench. He’s playing like his hair’s on fire. Zappe has found success spraying the ball to all areas of the field, yet amazingly he’s still avoiding turnovers. According to Pro Football Focus, Zappe’s had just one turnover-worthy throw across 70 attempts. If he qualified with enough attempts, Zappe’s 111.4 QB rating would lead the NFL.
The Patriots once had great success with a late-round QB out of Michigan named Tom Brady after selecting him 199th overall. Zappe’s far from entering the same territory, but if there’s any team who won’t hesitate to give the rookie backup every chance to succeed the starter, it’s the Patriots with Bill Belichick at the helm. Let’s see what this kid can do.