FOXBORO, Mass. — After waiting until the fourth round to grab a quarterback, the New England Patriots’ pick had to come with some upside.
That’s what makes Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham the perfect selection at No. 133 overall. Stidham, at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, looked like a future first-round pick after the 2017 season. He completed 66.5 percent of his passes as a sophomore for 3,158 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 153 yards with four touchdowns.
Stidham, 22, took a step back in 2018, however. He completed just 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. His team didn’t do him many favors with dropped passes and a leaky offensive line, but the regression forced him to last until the fourth round.
If Stidham can recapture the magic he found in 2017, he could wind up being a steal in the fourth round. And if he can’t? Then all he cost the Patriots was a fourth-round pick. At the very least, he’ll be a better developmental signal-caller than Danny Etling, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Stidham ranked 15th in Pro Football Focus‘ adjusted completion metric last season in part because his receivers dropped 7 percent of his passing attempts.
Stidham was poised under pressure, rating ninth in PFF’s adjusted completion percentage against pressure. He was 19th in PFF’s adjusted completion percent against the blitz metric.
Stidham had a 123.2 passer rating on deep passes last season, completing 18 of 51 attempts for 681 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Stidham’s top receiver in 2018, Darius Slayton, dropped one of those deep attempts. Slaytop dropped 18.6 percent of his targets last season. That certainly didn’t help Stidham.
As a fourth-round pick, Stidham shouldn’t come with undue pressure. There’s only a possibility he could be starting quarterback Tom Brady’s heir. Had the Patriots spent a first- or second-round pick on a quarterback, that would have been the expectation. Brady will be 42 years old this season and wants to play until he’s 45. By the time Brady’s Age 45 season is over, Stidham’s rookie contract will be over.
If Stidham impresses wildly in training camp, he could be the Patriots’ backup quarterback in 2019. The most likely course of action is Stidham serves as the Patriots’ No. 3 passer behind Brady and backup Brian Hoyer. When Hoyer’s contract runs out after this season, then Stidham could step up as the backup.
The Patriots should have time to see what Stidham can offer. With a better team around him, Stidham should show the upside he presented in 2017. He was highly regarded by draft analysts for his live arm and poise. He’ll be a bit of a project coming from a simplistic offense, but so is every college quarterback these days.
The Patriots’ top mid-round quarterback options were West Virginia’s Will Grier, North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley, Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson and Stidham. Grier and Finley went before Stidham, and the Patriots chose the Auburn product over Jackson.
There’s no downside to taking a quarterback in the fourth round. And with his upside, Stidham could look like a smart pick years down the road.