Patriots Hint at Quarterback Plan in Practice: Report

Robert Kraft

Getty Patriots owner Robert Kraft could see some new play designs on the field with Malik Cunningham this year.

Flashy New England Patriots rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham likely will not see snaps under center this year, but his role could morph before September.

The undrafted rookie from Louisville came to the NFL with openness to playing a different position. New England coaches look willing to take Cunningham up on that as he participated in receiver drills at practice this week.

That’s a departure from rookie minicamp in May when he played quarterback. Cunningham has a successful collegiate career at Louisville as a dual-threat quarterback, following in the footsteps of former Cardinals great Lamar Jackson.

“Since then, he’s bounced around the field, according to a source,” AtoZ Sports’ Doug Kyed reported. “It seems the Patriots are still trying to figure out what to do with the undrafted rookie who commanded a Patriots-record $200,000 guarantee and $30,000 signing bonus.”

Kyed noted that Cunningham ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds for the NFL Combine. Cunningham “didn’t look out of place among wide receivers”, Kyed added.

“New England had success moving Julian Edelman from college quarterback to NFL wide receiver,” Kyed continued. “Former Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers started out his college career as a quarterback. So, there’s a path for Cunningham to find success in New England if they do move him to a new position.”

Cunningham will have competition to get targets at receiver, though. The Patriots have JuJu Smith-Schuster as the top receiver followed by DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton as projected starters.

After that, the Patriots have Kendrick Bourne, who is looking to regain his 2021 form followed by rookies Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas. Cunningham would also have to compete against projected third-stringers Matthew Slater, Tre Nixon, and Raleigh Webb.

Patriots Could Use Malik Cunningham in Elsewhere

Receiver isn’t the only place Cunningham could fit. The Athletic’s Chad Graff speculates Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could use quarterback run “packages and formations” for Cunningham’s skill set.

“Last season, the Patriots ranked 27th in third-and-short situations, picking up a first down just 55 percent of the time,” Graff wrote. “And they ranked last in the league in the percentage of red zone trips that led to a touchdown, finding paydirt just 42 percent of the time.”

“That could lead the New England coaches to spend at least some time this summer working with Cunningham on zone-read-focused packages that could help the team in those situations,” Graff added.

Malik Cunningham Could Be the Third QB With One Catch

Cunningham could also become the team’s third quarterback if he beats out Trace McSorley for the job. The NFL recently instituted a third quarterback rule on game days without it counting against the roster limit.

With that said, Cunningham could only play if Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe got injured, per the NFL rule. Cunningham would also have to stay off the field if Jones or Zappe came back during that game — further negating Cunningham’s potential elsewhere on the field.

Whether Cunningham will beat McSorley for the third quarterback job or if the Patriots would spend a roster spot on Cunningham elsewhere remains to be seen.

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