Mac Jones is the New England Patriots' unquestioned starting quarterback in 2023. But who's next in line if Jones goes down?
That question became more interesting Thursday when the Patriots reportedly claimed Matt Corral off waivers and added him to their practice squad. The former Carolina Panthers quarterback joins fellow 2022 draft pick Bailey Zappe and rookie quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham to give New England three QBs on its practice squad -- one of which will be called up ahead of Week 1 to back up Jones, the only QB currently on the 53-man roster.
While Cunningham is more of a developmental prospect, there could be a real competition between Corral and Zappe, whom the Patriots surprisingly waived after an underwhelming preseason before bringing him back on their practice squad. So, how do the two QBs compare?
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Phil Perry broke it down with a great analogy Thursday on NBC Sports Boston's Arbella Early Edition.
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"You need a scout team quarterback who can move," Perry said, as seen in the video player above. "They haven't had one for a long time. They're going to see mobile quarterbacks just about every other week in the NFL. So, (Corral) has some athleticism. He has a better arm than Bailey Zappe.
"Talking to my good friend Tom Curran earlier today, I said, 'He sounds a little bit like Bailey Zappe on a Mario mushroom.' He's a little bit taller, he's a little faster, his arm's a little stronger. So, he's a better physical prospect than Bailey Zappe."
Corral was a legitimate dual-threat quarterback at Ole Miss, where he rushed for 614 yards and 11 touchdowns in 13 games as a senior in addition to passing for 3,349 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Zappe was a more prolific passer at Western Kentucky -- he set NCAA records for passing yards (5,967) and passing touchdowns (62) in 2021 -- but is far less mobile, with just 17 total rushing yards that season.
Corral is also the higher draft pick: The Panthers selected him in the third round (94th overall) -- ironically with a pick the Patriots traded to them -- while New England took Zappe in the fourth round at No. 137. That said, Zappe does have experience working in his favor, as Corral will face an uphill battle learning Bill O'Brien's offense.
"He's going to have to deal with some of the things that Zappe has had to deal with this summer, which is, you're coming from a very college (style) offense: everything spread out, a lot of RPOs," Perry said of Corral. "He'll be able to handle those RPOs that Bill O'Brien will throw at him, but how about the other stuff? Under center, footwork on big play-action shots down the field, turning your back to the defense. These are things that would be relatively new for him."
As Perry made clear, both Corral and Zappe project as career backups who would represent a significant step down from Jones if they see action. And if Corral has trouble picking up New England's offense, perhaps the Patriots will stick with Zappe as their backup. Corral appears to have a bit more upside than Zappe, however, so it's worth giving the 24-year-old a shot to prove himself.