Malik Cunningham could become the Patriots version of Taysom Hill

Houston Texans v New England Patriots
Houston Texans v New England Patriots / Omar Rawlings/GettyImages

Preseason games are generally not too thrilling to watch, even if you are excited that the NFL season is finally just weeks away. Much of that sentiment was felt on Thursday night when the Patriots welcomed the Houston Texans to Foxboro for their first preseason game.

With most starters sitting out, there were plenty of players to watch in their first action since joining the league. From Christian Gonzalez and Keion White to Kayshon Boutte and Chad Ryland, all focus was on the rookies throughout the game.

The defense outplayed the offense, as expected, and because of that, there wasn't a whole lot of good to take away from them until the fourth quarter.

That's when UDFA Malik Cunningham entered the game as the quarterback.

There have been questions surrounding his involvement in the offense since the Patriots signed him shortly after the draft. As a dual-threat quarterback, much like his predecessor at Louisville, Lamar Jackson, Cunningham provides the offense with multiple ways to use him throughout a game.

Leading up to this game, he had been primarily practicing as a wide receiver in training camp, seeing a few snaps at quarterback just this past week. Although questions remain about how Bill O'Brien will utilize him, he made quite an impression in his single drive on Thursday night.

Cunningham looked like a viable candidate for the QB3 spot on the roster

Entering the game under center with just under ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cunningham infused the much-needed excitement into the Patriots offense.

Bailey Zappe had already finished up for the day playing the entire first half, and Trace McSorley struggled for most of his opportunity behind an inefficient offensive line. So by the time it was time for Cunningham, there wasn't much hope he would be better than the presumed QB3.

But that wound up being a very wrong assumption.

He immediately demonstrated his running abilities on the second play of the drive, running up the middle of the field for a seven-yard gain. That continued throughout the drive, as he led the offense 75 yards in 14 plays and ended with a nine-yard run into the end zone.

On the drive, Cunningham completed 3/4 passes for 19 yards and ran the ball five times for 34 yards, becoming the leading rusher on the team for the night.

It was the ultimate showing of his versatility that many around the league felt would hinder his chances to succeed in the NFL. The boost he put into the offense proved his value to the team overall, especially when considering his unique abilities on the field.

Instead of taking the Julian Edelman route, perhaps Cunningham becomes like Taysom Hill

Instead of the washed-up argument of mobile quarterbacks looking more like wide receivers than a quarterback, maybe we should consider Cunningham's abilities and how they can be used beneficially for all parties.

Of course, we know he's been practicing as a receiver and quarterback throughout the summer, so there is certainly potential there. But what if the Patriots decided to use him more in how the Saints use QB/TE Taysom Hill?

Although Belichick has shown interest in mobile quarterbacks in the past, i.e., Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson, actually working with a player like that right out of college would be something new for the head coach. He could work to identify Cunningham's strengths as a quarterback and receiver and develop a way to use them to the offense's benefit, depending on the opponent.

It would be an intriguing way to make use of his natural skillset while not ignoring the whole body of work he has accomplished throughout his football career. Plus, they have the Hill example to model after, who has become an integral part of the New Orleans offense over the last five seasons.

Using Cunningham in a similar way provides the offense with a versatile option that could be the missing piece the offense is looking for. We saw how predictable and vanilla the offensive scheme was throughout the 2022 season; what's more unpredictable than using a dual-threat quarterback under center or as a receiver?

Instead of making him one-dimensional, bringing him in for wildcat plays, a decoy, a running back, or a receiver revives creativity in O'Brien's playbook. Given his experience coaching Deshaun Watson, it's familiar territory for the former head coach. That would lessen the potential failure of exploiting Cunningham's skills like Cam Newton was hindered in 2020.

He could easily become the spark the offense will need this upcoming season.

Would the Patriots actually consider this plan, though?

The biggest question would be if Belichick will be interested in experimenting further with how to use Cunningham this upcoming season.

It has been just one preseason game, and plenty can change over the next few weeks before we get to the regular season. But looking at how much the NFL has changed in recent years, especially at the quarterback position and the Patriots' struggles on offense, it doesn't seem like a bad idea to keep a unique talent like Cunningham on the roster.

Keeping him would positively impact the offense and allow the defense to reap the benefits of his presence. Because the unit has had difficulties slowing down mobile quarterbacks in recent years, Cunningham would be a great quarterback to practice against leading up to those big games, particularly since the division is now full of quarterbacks with that style.

Using him for trick plays could also be another great use of his talents. The Patriots have almost never had a quarterback like him on their roster in the team's history, so why not take advantage of what he can bring to the game?

From what we've seen at this point, with plenty of time for things to change, Belichick and Co. should be exploring all options to keep Cunningham on the roster. They may roll with just Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe at quarterback, and in that case, keeping Cunningham as the third is a no-brainer.

Because he can be used in multiple positions on the team, and the offense is looking to bounce back from a lackluster outing last season, there seem to be more reasons to keep him on the team and use him like Hill rather than debating why he isn't worthy of a spot on the roster.