The New England Patriots didn’t draft a ton of playmakers on offense, but they attempted to make up for their speed and big-play deficiencies with undrafted free agents.
Up to now, Louisiana Tech QB J’Mar Smith, diminutive Arizona running back J.J. Taylor, and troubled, but talented Miami WR Jeff Thomas have gotten the bulk of the attention amongst the crop of undrafted athletic offensive weapons–with the latter especially piquing Patriots fans’ interest.
Thomas’ speed and ability to create separation seem undeniable but he wasn’t the undrafted free agent receiver that garnered the largest guaranteed money in his deal with the Patriots.
That distinction belongs to former Kansas State and Mississippi State wide receiver Isaiah Zuber. After the draft, Zuber locked up $100,000 guaranteed and a $15,000 signing bonus. Why would the Patriots invest this much in Zuber?
It’s because he has the experience, upside, and versatility to make an impact in the NFL. Justin Trombino of FanSided says Zuber is the “biggest steal” in the draft for the Patriots.
Take a look at his highlight reel from college:
Isaiah Zuber’s College Stats
Zuber redshirted his freshman season in 2015 but played in nine games in 2016. He only made 24 receptions, but two of them went for scores. In just four more games as a sophomore, Zuber more than doubled his production in most categories.
His receptions climbed by 27, yardage by 318, and his TD catches by 2. As a junior, Zuber had his best season in college. He made 52 receptions with 619 yards and 5 TDs.
Isaiah Zuber’s Skills
Zuber has a gift for high-pointing passes and making catches in traffic. The highlight reel above is littered with examples of this valuable talent.
He also has game speed that may not show up during a 40-time measurement, but has suited him well in the open field, and have helped to make him an effective kick returner. Zuber has some potential value as a slot receiver and a return man, which creates some added value.
Why Did Zuber Transfer from Kansas State to Mississippi State?
After his promising junior season, it seemed Zuber might be headed for a breakout senior year at Kansas State. However, he chose to exercise his right as a graduate transfer, and he jumped from Kansas State to Mississippi State.
Unfortunately for him, the move caused a decline in his production. He saw career lows in receptions, despite making the most of his opportunities by averaging more than 15 yards per catch.
At the time of his decision, Zuber offered this farewell to the Wildcats fans and program:
“I appreciate everything K-State has done for me and the opportunity they gave me,” Zuber wrote on his Twitter account. “Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and coaches that believed in me! For my last year in collegiate football I’m coming back south to play at Mississippi State!”
Heading into his senior season, Zuber was recovering from hip surgery, and the Wildcats had just hired a new head coach in Chris Klieman to replace the retired Bill Snyder. Klieman brought in a different offense that Zuber may not have felt comfortable in, and he also may have felt that the starting job he’d worked to attain the three years prior, was now not as much of a given as it would have been under Snyder with whom he was recruited by, and had built a relationship with since arriving in Manhattan, Kansas.
These kinds of transfers aren’t uncommon, but it seems they rarely work out in the player’s favor. Still, there is no doubting his talent. Perhaps, he can still become a major contributor on the pro level, even though his college career didn’t reach its potential.
His ability to make plays downfield should make Patriots new QB Jarrett Stidham excited about the potential connection he may be able to establish–should Zuber stick on the roster.