After selecting 12 rookies in the 2023 draft, the Patriots didn’t have much roster room to spare, leading them to signing a meager three undrafted free agent rookies. Here are the three who will attempt to defy odds for a roster spot:
- QB Malik Cunningham (Louisville) (story)
- LB Jourdan Heilig (Appalachian State)
- TE Johnny Lumpkin (Louisiana)
Cunningham was a four-year starter for the Cardinals, helping Louisville to find its identity following the Lamar Jackson-era. After Jawon Pass failed to inspire much optimism in Cunningham’s freshman season, Cunningham took the reins and never looked back. Over five years, Cunningham threw for 9,664 yards and 70 touchdowns, adding 3,184 yards and 50 touchdowns on the ground. He can compete with Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley for backup duties behind Mac Jones and potentially provide as a scout team quarterback, especially for games against quarterbacks like Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Kyler Murray.
Lumpkin will be entering the NFL at 25 years old after spending two years at Hutchinson Community College and five years at Louisiana. He has ideal size at the tight end position and utilized it well for the Ragin’ Cajuns. While he didn’t light up the stat sheet, four of his 16 catches last year were for touchdowns.
Heilig is a surprising signing, even for New England. Drafted mostly off of potential, Heilig only had 34 total tackles in four seasons with the Mountaineers. He had actually entered his name in the transfer portal and was, reportedly, willing to move down to the FCS level, if necessary, to find more playing time. After not receiving any scholarship interest, Heilig took a job at Zaxby’s to make ends meet. Then, the Patriots called.
The presumption is that the Patriots intend to utilize Heilig as a dedicated special teams player. Yes, the Patriots do have plenty of those in players like Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler, Cody Davis, and perhaps Chris Board, but after one of their worst special teams seasons in recent memory, New England was willing to take a flyer on Heilig. It’s really the perfect landing place for him as the Patriots lend more opportunities to specialists than any other NFL franchise.