The biggest story from the Patriots’ first preseason game of the year was the play of rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham. The Louisville product impressed with his playmaking, especially on the ground, leading to New England’s only touchdown against Houston.
Cunningham’s performance has fans demanding to see more of him. Well, in the immediate aftermath, it turns out they’re getting their wish.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported after Sunday’s practice that Cunningham received more reps right after his preseason showing. His uptick in playing time led to a diminished role for Trace McSorely, who saw no QB work in full-team situations.
Based on this alone, it appears the fifth-round pick has already started to shake up the QB depth chart. McSorely entered camp vying for the QB3 role, which has greater importance in 2023 after the league added its new third quarterback rule for game days. However, Cunningham seemingly taking McSorely’s reps so soon after the first exhibition shows who’s the frontrunner for the job right now.
It’s not a surprise at all that New England wants a deeper look at Cunningham’s potential under center. The headliner after the Texans game was his rushing skills, as the rookie made would-be tacklers miss with his agility and array of moves. However, he also also flashed some nice tools as a passer.
Cunningham presents the kind of dual threat the Pats have historically lacked at QB, and this skill set could continue to push him up the depth chart. Some have even called for the rookie to surpass primary backup Bailey Zappe, who’s mostly failed to impress in camp.
Cunningham’s emergence as a legit playmaker suddenly make the quarterback room much more interesting. Zappe’s job as QB2 is by no means safe now with a playmaker like Cunningham behind him. The more reps the latter receives in practice as well will only make him better, which could help the rookie close the gap in this race.
And while Mac Jones has the starter job seemingly in hand, we all know how shaky his current position with the coaching staff is. There’s a possible path here to QB1 for Cunningham if he keeps this up.
Cunningham’s development through camp and the regular season will be a major storyline to watch. We’ve seen players with a similar profile go on to dominate today’s NFL, like recent MVP winner Lamar Jackson. Though he’s nowhere at that level right now, the potential is clearly there for success in the NFL.
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