The Patriots continued tinkering with the 53-man roster and practice squad heading into the opening week of the regular season, reportedly making two additions on Thursday.
After waiving backup Bailey Zappe on cutdown day, New England reportedly has a new quarterback on their 53-man roster by claiming former third-rounder Matt Corral off waivers from the Panthers. Initially, Corral made the Panthers 53-man roster as a third-stringer behind number-one overall pick Bryce Young and veteran backup Andy Dalton. However, Carolina waived the 94th overall pick in the 2022 draft, 43 picks ahead of Zappe, who is now on the Pats practice squad, to make room for three players that the Panthers claimed off waivers.
The former Ole Miss standout spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve after suffering a significant Lisfranc injury (foot) in the 2022 preseason. After his rookie campaign was wiped away due to injury, Corral became the latest cut from the Matt Rhule era in Carolina, with head coach Frank Reich purging the roster of the former regime. The Panthers have cut over half of Rhule's draft picks spanning a three-year period (2020 to 2022), with Corral as the sixth Rhule draft pick to be released in this year's cutdown process.
Although the writing was on the wall with a new coaching staff and a top-pick at quarterback, Corral is a toolsy quarterback with a live arm and above-average mobility. His preseason film also shows a passer who makes good decisions, with only one turnover-worthy play on 55 preseason drop-backs, and that was a late-game hail mary.
There are moments throughout Corral's film where you can convince yourself that this is a poised passer with above-average physical traits and solid processing. But the same could be said for Corral's college film at Ole Miss. You could've made a cutup of Corral's high-end plays in Lane Kiffin's wide-open spread system, where you would've thought he was a first-round talent. However, Corral's ball placement and accuracy are very erratic.
This preseason, Corral registered a completion percentage over expected (CPOE) of -7.2. Among 28 quarterbacks with 45-plus pass attempts, Corral ranked 23rd in CPOE and 26th in expected points added per play (-0.42). For comparison, Zappe was 21st and 27th respectively.
Corral's accuracy struggles make it difficult to envision him developing into a starter. But it's a low-risk move for a developmental talent with more physical tools than Zappe while still having a decent feel for the passing game.
Starting with plays that Corral puts on film that quarterbacks with lesser athleticism can't make, Corral has an out-of-structure gene that the other passers on the roster don't possess. Above, he has to leave the pocket with pressure coming off the right edge, finds clean air by stepping up through the outside of the pocket, and makes a throw on the move to an open crossing pattern for an explosive gain.
Corral's out-of-structure moments are enticing in a league where that's becoming more necessary for quarterbacks, but the lion's share of quarterbacking is still done from the pocket. In the pocket, Corral has flashes of throwing with anticipation, creating passing lanes with eye manipulation, and making full-field progressions.
Here, Corral starts on the left side of the field, where he has a deep out breaking into an outside-leveraged corner. Given the corners ' positioning, the second-year QB cancels out that option and comes to the shallow drag, which is running into a short zone defender, so he progresses to the "over the ball" route to find the open receivers. It's a nice "one, two, three" progression for the young quarterback.
The 24-year-old also opens passing lanes by manipulating short zone defenders when the Panthers designed "inch" or "read" style concepts. In this example, the inside slot receiver has a "read" route where he will open opposite the nearest defenders' leverage and sit in the underneath zone. With Corral staring down number three, it opens the "in" route from the number two spot (outside slot) for a completion.
Lastly, Corral also threw with solid anticipation on deep outs, curls, and other routes in the boundary. This time, the vertical route clears out the sideline for the inside slot receiver to run the deep out at the sticks, and Corral throws the deep out with good timing to move the chains.
Although those plays will have you talking yourself into Corral, he really struggles with his accuracy while throwing to receivers who are on the move. In the first clip, Corral correctly reads out a double post-cross concept to throw the crosser, but the pass sails over the tight end's head. He makes the right read off the bootleg action in the next clip but throws well behind his receiver.
Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien now has a developmental quarterback prospect to work with who has a higher ceiling than the other backup options on New England's roster. If O'Brien can fix Corral's mechanics to make him a more consistent downfield thrower, it's an intriguing lottery ticket and one the Pats should be taking.
The Patriots should be taking these fliers because they already have a "you know what you're getting" backup with Zappe, and even Mac Jones is more point guard/distributor than a playmaker. Still, Corral has a long way to go, and although there might be more upside, Corral might not even be the active backup on game day for the first few weeks.
Despite his struggles in training camp, Zappe had all spring and summer in O'Brien's system, while the coaching staff will need to get Corral acclimated before he's ready to back up Mac.
PATRIOTS ADD WR JALEN REAGOR TO PRACTICE SQUAD
The other move the Patriots made was filling out their practice squad by reportedly signing former first-round wideout Jalen Reagor.
Like Corral, Reagor initially made the Vikings 53-man roster, but Minnesota signed running back Myles Gaskin and offensive lineman David Quessenbery on Wednesday. To make room for the two veteran additions, Minnesota waived Reagor. After clearing waivers, the speedy wideout reportedly reached an agreement with the Patriots to join the practice squad. According to reports, Reagor is a candidate to be promoted to play in Week 1.
To this point, the former TCU Horned Frog is one of the biggest first-round busts at the wide receiver position over the last few years. Philadelphia selected the explosive receiver with the 21st overall pick in the 2020 draft, but the 24-year-old only has 73 catches over three seasons. Reagor has struggled with drops, finishing through contact on contested catches, and has route-running lapses when it comes to completing routes and separating on horizontal cuts. Although he's an explosive athlete with 4.47 speed, it hasn't worked out for Reagor in the NFL.
This summer, the wideout initially made the Vikngs roster after flashing some in the preseason, mostly running vertical patterns and "over" routes where he works across the field. For example, Reagor has the straight-line speed to clear out coverage to create space for others by occupying the deep part of the field on vertical routes. In the clip above, Reagor reaches a max speed of 20.64 miles per hour, which is moving by any standard.
With the Vikings majoring in under-center play-action, Reagor also effectively ran downfield crossers off those actions. This time, he does well to take a "stair" step after his release when he recognizes the linebacker dropping into the deep hook. Instead of running right into the linebacker, Reagor re-stems up the field to get to a depth past the linebacker and then curls the crosser across the field for a 25-yard reception.
With the Patriots placing second-year receiver Tyquan Thornton on in-season injured reserve, Reagor could bring a similar speed element on vertical routes and potentially gadget plays. O'Brien has shown the desire to have more motion at the snap in the offense, like tear (from the backfield) or jet motion. However, with Thornton's durability issues and rookie wideout Demario Douglas banged up as well, you wonder if that can be a path to a supporting role for Reagor.
Reagor will probably never live up to his first-round draft status now three-plus years into his NFL career, but the explosiveness is there for him to emerge as a complementary piece in an offense that needs more speed.