The Patriots drew some raised eyebrows at the draft this spring when they spent a third-round pick (No. 91 overall) on Jacoby Brissett. New England’s allotment of early picks was conspicuously light, and despite two productive seasons at North Carolina State after transferring from Florida in 2013, Brissett was widely regarded as an intriguing third-day project and not much more in the short-term.
He may still be a project, but his crash course in Josh McDaniels’s complex offense will play out in real time now that Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulder injury leaves the Patriots without their top two quarterbacks over the final two weeks of Tom Brady’s suspension. So who is this guy?
NC State rarely drew national attention with Brissett at the helm, going 8–5 in 2014 and 7–6 in ’15, but his arm helped the Wolfpack put a scare into the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best team in back-to-back years. Brissett went throw-for-throw with Jameis Winston two years ago, finishing 32 of 48 for 359 yards and three touchdowns in a 56–41 loss to Florida State in 2014 that required a furious second-half comeback on the part of the defending national champions.
His duel with Clemson and Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson last season was a little less even—Brissett was 24 of 41 for 254 yards and three touchdowns—and the result was an identical 56–41 loss, but the game underscored the fact that few teams in the country leaned on their QB’s consistency more than the Wolfpack did. The Patriots had to like the fact that he threw only 11 interceptions in his two years at NC State despite approaching 400 pass attempts in each season.
Brissett actually resembles Winston in many ways on the field beyond his sturdy 6' 4", 235-pound frame. He’s most comfortable in the pocket with a bevy of targets to sift through; he runs only when absolutely necessary; he shakes off mistakes quickly. Brissett’s arm doesn’t get him out of trouble the way Winston’s cannon often can, so he compensates by avoiding most of the trouble in the first place.
In his emergency appearance in Sunday’s 31–24 win over the Dolphins, Brissett showed some of that cautious mobility, scrambling for 10 yards on one early occasion. Otherwise, the Patriots wisely leaned on LeGarrette Blount and shortened the playbook to keep things simple for a rookie who hasn’t taken nearly enough reps to have a command of Brady’s full arsenal. Brissett did show the makings of a strong rapport with Martellus Bennett, finding the veteran tight end three times for 68 yards in the second half. In all, the rookie finished 6 for 9 through the air for 92 yards.
Brissett dodged some bullets against Miami—the fumble he coughed up after a blindside hit by Michael Thomas luckily bounced into the hands of a teammate, and the defense bent to allow the Dolphins back into things before Ryan Tannehill’s last-second interception sealed New England’s 2-0 start—but the lone touchdown drive he led proved to be the difference. Brissett’s reliable (if rarely flashy) efficiency will serve him well as Sunday’s plot twist moves into the rearview mirror and he settles into the NFL. The Patriots proved they are good enough to keep winning with whatever playmaking he can muster until then.