To fully understand Jarrett Stidham as a prospect, you have to start from the beginning.
Before Stidham was selected by the New England Patriots in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and prior to transferring to Auburn, he committed to Baylor as a four-star recruit. Stidham started three games and completed 75 of 109 passes for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and an average of 11.6 yards per passing attempt.
We watched 16 of Stidham’s games spanning his three-year college career against Kansas State (2015), Georgia Southern (2017), Clemson (2017), Mississippi State (2017), Louisiana State (2017), Georgia (2017), Alabama (2017), Central Florida (2017), Washington (2018), Arkansas (2018), Mississippi State (2018), Tennessee (2018), Ole Miss (2018), Texas A&M (2018), Alabama (2018) and Purdue (2018).
He immediately flashed an arm worthy of the NFL.
Those three throws are from Stidham’s first career college start.
With Baylor embroiled in a sexual assault scandal, Stidham elected to transfer. After a year at McLennan Community College, which doesn’t have a football program, Stidham joined Auburn and became their Week 1 starter in 2017.
There’s a reason he was viewed as a future first-round quarterback prospect after his sophomore season, when he completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,158 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Stidham continued to make tough, impressive throws. He also tended to hesitate, hold onto the ball for too long and rely on his legs a little too much for someone who’s not a great scrambler.
But he flashed solid pocket movement and the ability to throw on the run in his new offense.
His accuracy on passes over 20 yards was perhaps his most impressive trait as a sophomore.
He definitely doesn’t lack for an NFL arm. He threw the ball nearly 50 yards downfield on a line with relative ease here.
Here’s another throw that traveled 50 yards downfield. Stidham once again hit his target in stride.
When Auburn opened up the offense for Stidham, he thrived.
Stidham dropped this throw perfectly behind LSU’s cornerback and in front of the safety.
This pass wasn’t completed, but watch how Stidham stood in the face of pressure and delivered an accurate strike anyway.
NFL teams draft quarterbacks in the first round entirely on arm strength alone. Stidham also didn’t have many issues with accuracy in 2017.
This was just a short pass, but some quarterbacks, including ones the Patriots have drafted, have trouble delivering this type of throw with the right loft and depth.
Stidham wasn’t always perfect with pressure bearing down. He had a tendency to either hesitate and eat a sack or just bail and run. But his arm strength and accuracy didn’t lessen with defenders in his face.
He doesn’t need to have his feet set and squared to deliver a strike. Making this throw between two defenders while on the move had an extremely high level of difficulty.
This play is a pretty decent look at what Stidham might be asked to do in the Patriots’ offense. Auburn’s left tackle redirected the pass rusher behind Stidham, which is a staple of the technique Dante Scarnecchia coaches the Patriots’ offensive line. Auburn receiver Will Hastings really couldn’t look more like Wes Welker while running this deep slant.
Auburn’s offense changed before the 2018 season, however. The Tigers lost their best offensive lineman in Braden Smith, and running back Kerryon Johnson also left for the NFL. Hastings tore his ACL during spring practices and missed most of the season.
Stidham completed just 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,994 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. Five of those touchdowns came in Auburn’s final game of the season.
Auburn’s best receiver, Darius Slayton, dropped 18.6 percent of his catchable targets, and running back JaTarvious Whitlow also had issues with his hands.
No, seriously. There were so many drops.
This isn’t even all of them.
The beginning of the 2018 season’s game against Alabama was a disaster. Auburn’s receivers dropped consecutive passes, then an Alabama defender dropped an interception.
It didn’t stop there.
We’re leaving out several more.
All of this culminated in Auburn’s offense taking a much more conservative approach during the 2018 season. Most of Stidham’s passes traveled within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
We just wanted to show you this play because the receiver, Ryan Davis, is a Patriots undrafted signing.
There definitely were still times when Stidham would hold onto the ball for too long.
Here’s an example of Stidham’s hesitation. He had two receivers wide open in front of him but held onto the ball and eventually scrambled short of the first down.
Here’s another time Stidham panicked under pressure with two wide open receivers right in front of him.
But he also started to throw the ball away far more frequently, which partially explains his almost 6 percent drop in completion rate.
The problem was, he saw ghosts at times.
While Stidham’s deep ball was one of his biggest strengths as a sophomore, he kept overthrowing those passes as a junior.
For the most part, Stidham took care of the ball well. He threw just 13 interceptions in his college career, including six in 2017 and five in 2018. He did make some questionable decisions at times, however.
It definitely wasn’t all bad in 2018. With pressure bearing down, Stidham threw one of the most impressive passes in college football last season.
He also skied this touchdown pass off his back foot against Alabama.
Auburn’s offense made significant changes before its bowl game against Purdue, which allowed Stidham to air the ball out more. Unsurprisingly, he thrived.
It helped that his receivers actually caught the ball.
It also helped Stidham wasn’t wilting under pressure and actually moved around the pocket to throw downfield.
So, what do we take away from all of this? It’s pretty clear he was better in 2017, which is mostly reinforced by advanced stats.
His adjusted completion rate dropped from 75.3 percent in 2018 to 73.7 percent in 2017, per Pro Football Focus. His adjusted completion rate vs. pressure actually rose in 2018 from 55.4 percent to 63.6 percent because he was more willing to throw the ball away. His adjusted completion rate against the blitz dropped from 77.4 percent in 2017 to 69.6 percent in 2018. His deep passing adjusted completion rate dropped from 41.9 percent in 2017 to 37.3 percent in 2018. His average depth of target dropped from 9.1 yards in 2017 to 8.5 yards in 2018. Auburn’s receivers dropped 4.3 percent of passes in 2017 and 7 percent of passes in 2018.
Stidham was a mostly accurate quarterback in college, though he did have those troubles on deep passes in 2018. He also reportedly was playing through a back injury, so that could at least partially explain those issues. We never saw a consistent or concerning issue with accuracy in the shallow to intermediate part of the field.
The Patriots don’t have to worry about Stidham’s ability to drive a football into the intermediate or deep part of the field. He has the arm. He also protected the football well throughout his career and made mostly sound decisions.
Whether Stidham can be a successful NFL quarterback will depend on how he handles himself when pressure is bearing down and receivers aren’t getting open. In 2017, he held onto the ball for too long and ate too many sacks. He was hesitant in the pocket, and he suffered from it.
In 2018, he did a much better job of throwing the ball away with pressure bearing down. It’s good he learned that skill because Auburn’s porous offensive line could have got Stidham maimed. But there still were times when decisiveness and a bit more trust in his O-line would have helped.
There’s a lot of potential in Stidham. Accuracy and arm strength are tough to teach. It will take some patience, but if the Patriots can help Stidham overcome some of his issues in the pocket, then they could have a future starting quarterback. It’s a good thing Brian Hoyer is under contract for another year. It could be asking a lot of Stidham to back up Tom Brady in 2019.
Stidham was well worth the risk in the fourth round. Just scroll back up and watch how good Stidham looked in 2017 before Auburn realized it couldn’t trust its offensive line.
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images