The Houston Baptist football program finished their COVID-19 shortened season October 10th with their only victory of the season over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. Where a 1-3 season sounds rather pedestrian, there is a shining star in their program. That star is the emerging 2021 NFL Draft small-school Quarterback prospect Bailey Zappe.
Becoming an NFL Quarterback and as a small-school prospect has been done many times before. NFL greats such as Kurt Warner and Steve McNair hail from Division 1AA programs. Current NFL quarterbacks and Super Bowl Champions Carson Wentz, Joe Flacco, and Jimmy Garoppolo have had similar FCS paths to the NFL. Although potential first-round draft pick Trey Lance has received all of the attention of small-school Quarterback prospects going into this season, it is Zappe who has shined brightest this season.
How Zappe Measures Up Statistically
Bailey Zappe did everything in his power to throw his name in the Quarterback prospect mix. Zappe had as impressive 4-game stretch as any Quarterback in the NCAA not only this season, but perhaps ever. He threw for 1,833 yards, 15 touchdowns, with only 1 interception. The yardage he threw for over that span would currently rank first among all FBS Quarterbacks this season. His QB rating would rank him second in the FBS with 159.3.
Zappe’s performance this season did not come out of nowhere either. This was his third season as the Houston Baptist Huskies starting quarterback. Each year he has been there, he has taken strides to become the next great small-school quarterback prospect. In 2018, he threw for 2,822 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. In 2019, he threw for 1,000 more yards, 12 more touchdowns, but two more interceptions. This season, it looked like he was much more mindful of his decision making by only throwing one interception in four games. He did so without showing any signs hesitation slinging the rock either. Had Houston Baptist been able to play a full 12-game season like they did in 2019, he was on pace to throw for 5,500 yards and over 40 touchdowns.
Taking a look at Zappe’s game, he plays like the prototypical-new age NFL quarterback. He makes quick, sound decisions with the football and thrives in a hurry up style offense. His footwork is sound and shows the ability to extend plays when necessary. His eyes never stop looking downfield and he is not afraid to sling it downfield when the opportunity presents itself.
Another one Zappe’s biggest strengths is his ability to manipulate the velocity of his passes. He can put a beautiful arc on a downfield strike, or grip and rip a 3-step drop on an out pattern, slant, or screen when needed and as accurate as you can ask for. Although he far from a running quarterback, he does have the ability to extend plays with his legs and keep his eyes downfield for big plays.
What could be considered most impressive about Zappe, is how he takes control of his offense. He makes many audibles, play calls, and reads at the line of scrimmage coming out of hurry-up situations. His knowledge and understanding of the game shine bright in his play style and paid dividends this season for the Houston Baptist Huskies.
What perhaps is the most impressive trait about Zappe to me is how he performed when the lights shined brightest. His biggest game of his career was against Texas Tech at Lubbock Stadium on the road this season. In this game, Zappe had arguably the best game of his career throwing for 567 yards and 4 touchdowns in a narrow defeat against a power 5 program. The highlights are below if you want to check out his electric performance against the Red Raiders:
Knocks on Zappe
The two biggest knocks on Zappe would be his record as a starter and his limited mobility. As a starter at Houston Baptist, the team was 7-19 although Zappe’s numbers were fantastic. Albeit, it could have much more to do with their defense allowing over 40 points a game during that span. If scouts see that he has shown an inability to win games at the FCS level, it might be tough for them to imagine him winning games in the NFL.
The other knock is his mobility. The league is changing as we know it. Mobile quarterbacks were that were once a rarity, has become a prerequisite to be an NFL quarterback. Looking at Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and many more quarterbacks in the NFL who are able to get it done with their feet as well as with their arm. Zappe uses his feet to keep plays alive and sling passes on the run, which is a great attribute. However, there are times where he turns down the easy yards right in front of him to try and make a difficult pass on the run. In the NFL, he is going to have to learn to take what the defense gives you in those situations.
How Does he Stack Up to the Rest of the Class
It goes without saying that the top three QB prospects in this year’s class are Trevor Lawrence from Clemson, Justin Fields from Ohio State, and Trey Lance from North Dakota State. After those three, it is pretty open from there. Zappe will not like get drafted immediately following those three. Sam Ehlinger of Texas, Kyle Trask of Florida, and emerging Mississippi State stud transfer KJ Costello would likely follow those three. However, the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine will be huge this year for NFL QB prospects assuming that those will be able to take place safely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. If Zappe can continue to momentum he has built the past two seasons into those events, based on the film he was already put out he will be a small-school prospect turned NFL quarterback in 2021.