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Is Bailey Zappe The Upcoming NFL Star?

Many sports fans are familiar with Wally Pipp, who infamously yielded his spot in the New York Yankee lineup to one Joe Gehrig, who would go on to baseball immortality.  More recently, fans of the New England Patriots are aware of Drew Bledsoe being forced to the sideline, making way for Tim Brady, regarded as one of the NFL all-time greats.  Now, in 2022, will Mac Jones join Pipp and Bledsoe, and will rookie Bailey Zappe be mentioned in the same breath as the stars or those who got replaced?

Going into the 2022 pro football season, there was some disparity in the Vegas NFL odds as to who would emerge victorious in the AFC East.  After all, the Buffalo Bills won two straight, but before that, New England claimed 11 division titles in succession.  With quarterback Mac Jones entering his second season, hopes were high in Foxboro.  However, an injury to Jones early on and concussion to backup Brian Hoyer set Boston talk radio lines abuzz with the once unknown Zappe, as he led the team to a 29-0 shellacking of Detroit.

Quick Look Back

The number 1 overall pick of the 1993 draft, Drew Bledsoe, was firmly entrenched as the Patriots’ quarterback for nearly 9 years.  The Washington State product burst on the scene, throwing for a league-best 4,555 yards in his second season.  For his career, he tossed 255 TD passes, 196 with New England, and was a four-time Pro Bowler and one-time Super Bowl titlist.

On September 23, 2001, the Jets visited Foxboro for a showdown with New England in a game that was a pick ‘em according to NFL lines.  In the final quarter of an eventual 10-3 Jets win, linebacker Mo Lewis delivered a hit on Bledsoe that knocked him out. 

Enter an unheralded rookie from Michigan, drafted in the 6th round of the 2001 draft: Thomas Patrick Edward Brady, better known to fans worldwide as Tom Brady.  Brady would complete 5 of his 10 passes that afternoon, but as we all know, the rest is history: 7 Super Bowl rings, 5 Super Bowl MVP awards, 3-time NFL MVP, and undisputedly regarded as one of the best to even put on the shoulder pads. 

Had Bledsoe not sustained that hit from Lewis on the September afternoon, it’s unknown whether Brady’s career would’ve flourished the way it did.

Bailey Who?

Going into the season, given Jones entering his second season, the NFL odds were non-committal as to how the Patriots would fare.  The signal caller from Alabama, while not drafted first overall, Jones was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2020, going 15th overall.  In the Pats’ Week 3 loss to Baltimore, Jones went down with an ankle injury, making way for veteran Brian Hoyer.  After Hoyer suffered a concussion in Week 4, Zappe, the team’s 4th round pick in 2021, was summoned to the field to be QB1.

A native of Victoria, Texas, Zappe spent the first four years of his college career at Houston Baptist.  A starter as a true freshman, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire out of the gate with the Huskies, tossing 28 touchdowns and 23 interceptions his first two seasons.  He burst onto the national scene as a junior, throwing for 3,800 yards and 35 touchdowns. 

COVID-19 disrupted Zappe’s 2020-21 season as Houston Baptist elected to play in the fall while the rest of the Southland Conference opted for a spring season.  As such, HBU only played four games.  The fall did provide a glimpse of what was to come as Zappe threw for 567 yards on 30-of-49 passes in a 35-33 heartbreaker to Texas Tech.  The 567 yards was the first, but not the last, occasion, Zappe would enter the NCAA record books as it was the most yards through the air by an FCS player against an FBS defense.

Instead of testing the draft waters, the 6-foot Zappe made a move to the FBS level. While Western Kentucky was certainly a new situation, he was joining in Bowling Green by former HBU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley as well as three HBU wideouts to run the vaunted Air Raid offense.

The 2021 campaign at WKU was nothing short of spectacular as Zappe threw for 5.967 yards in 14 games, and in the Hilltoppers’ 59-38 Boca Raton Bowl win over Appalachian, he thews his 62nd touchdown pass, breaking current Bengals QB Joe Burrow’s single-season FCS touchdown pass record.

So What’s Next?

Although he has just one NFL start to his credit, Zappe seemed comfortable and adept at running New England’s offense. While he was more of a true game manager than a classic gunslinger, he only threw it 21 times; he did manage to lead the team to a 29-0 win.  The previous week, in relief of Hoyer, he rallied the Pats to a near upset of the Packers in Lambeau. 

With Boston sports fans craving another superstar and already having decided that while he may be solid, Jones is not that guy, all of their hopes and dreams have been invested into one Bailey Zappe.