When people say the offensive scheme at Western Kentucky didn’t prepare him for the NFL, Bailey Zappe just smiles.
“There’s kind of a misconception about the air raid and the air raid that we ran with [offensive coordinator Zach Kittley],” Zappe said at this month’s NFL Scouting Combine. “We did a lot of stuff a lot of people do in the NFL and other offenses in college. We did a lot of pure progression stuff. He gave me a lot of opportunities, checking out plays, read defenses, pure progressions, some of the stuff that would carry over to the NFL.”
Nobody can argue that what the Hilltoppers did wasn’t successful. In his one season at Western Kentucky, Zappe set NCAA records with 5,967 passing yards and 62 touchdown passes (passing Joe Burrow’s 60 touchdowns at LSU in 2019). He was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in all of FBS football. He completed 69.2% of his passes on a staggering 686 pass attempts. He threw only 11 interceptions.
Some of his single-game stat lines were just ridiculous. Like this one from the Boca Raton Bowl: 33-for-47 passing for 422 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. His season low – yes, low – for touchdown passes in a game was three.
Despite the gaudy numbers, the NFL is going to be an uphill battle for Zappe, who measured in at 6-foot, 215 pounds. He has only one season of FBS football on his resume, albeit a record-setting season.
This year’s NFL draft is not stacked with quarterback talent like last year, when five quarterbacks were selected within the first 15 picks. Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Mississippi’s Matt Corral generally are considered the top prospects and most likely first-round options.
The later-round quarterback options don’t exactly scream “diamond in the rough.” That being said, Zappe might be the most interesting quarterback of the bunch, simply because of the absurd numbers he produced.
With only six draft picks and many needs, the Bears don’t seem likely to take a quarterback. Not after selecting Justin Fields in the first round last year. If they were to look at potential backups, Zappe should be available on Day 3 of the draft.
Before Western Kentucky, Zappe played at FCS Houston Baptist University, where he played alongside current Bears linebacker Caleb Johnson.
Zappe said NFL teams he has spoken with are mostly just curious how the high-powered Western Kentucky offense came to be.
“I don’t think there’s a single quarterback in history that wouldn’t want to throw 680 times in a season,” Zappe said. “It’s amazing. Coach Kittley gave me keys to a Lamborghini. I was able to check in and out of plays, whatever I saw fit.”
An apt comparison for Zappe might be Case Keenum, who set all sorts of passing records at Houston before going undrafted in 2012. Keenum’s measurables coming out of college were quite similar to Zappe’s. Keenum has made a career out of being an NFL backup, turning that into 64 career starts and $44 million in career earnings.
Zappe should get a chance to compete somewhere.
Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky
College career: Zappe set NCAA single-season records with 5,967 passing yards and 62 passing touchdowns in his lone season with Western Kentucky in 2021. He was the Conference USA MVP. Before Western Kentucky, he slung the ball around the field for the FCS program at Houston Baptist University. He led FCS football with 35 passing touchdowns in 2019. He was a Walter Payton Award finalist that season. Houston Baptist played only four games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
They said it: “Stocky pocket passer with eye-popping production in high-volume passing attacks. ... He’s unimpressive physically and lacks precision accuracy, so finding work as a backup might be a long shot despite the impressive career production.” – Lance Zierlein, NFL.com.
Draft projection: 4th-6th round pick