Jarrett Stidham is a sensitive subject for some New England Patriots fans. To them, it’s still too soon to talk about Tom Brady’s young replacement.
But after the Patriots elected to sign journeyman veteran Brian Hoyer on Sunday, Stidham’s odds of taking over for Brady as New England’s next starting quarterback significantly improved. That addition signified the Patriots would not be in on the higher-end QB market of Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston.
The Patriots’ quarterback depth chart now is likely set with Stidham, Hoyer and Cody Kessler. And while Hoyer and Kessler also will compete for the starting job, Stidham has the edge as a second-year pro with higher upside.
And the Patriots do believe in him. If they didn’t, they would have made a bigger push to retain Brady or signed more of a proven successor. Players like Dalton, Newton and Winston are still available. And the Patriots instead signed Hoyer, who ideally will be a backup to Stidham in 2020.
The Patriots know more about Stidham than anyone. They watched him practice against the Patriots’ defense all last season while the media got a glimpse of Stidham in training camp practices, where he impressed.
He was probably even better in the preseason games, completing 67.8 percent of his passes with a 102.6 passer rating.
Then he played in two regular-season games and went 2-of-4 with a pick-six when he sailed a pass over running back Brandon Bolden’s head and into Jamal Adams’ waiting arms during garbage time of a Week 3 matchup with the New York Jets. Not ideal. Also a very small sample size. (Fun fact: Another No. 4, Brett Favre, threw a pick-six in his first NFL pass. Things got better for him.)
Overall, there’s not a large sample size on Stidham. But most of what we’ve seen at the NFL level is positive. In college, he was up-and-down. He always had a big arm and impressive accuracy on deep throws, but he struggled under pressure and disappointed in his final season at Auburn before leaving for the pros. With a better 2018 season, Stidham could have been a first-round pick. Instead, the Patriots got him in the fourth.
We went back and watched all of Stidham’s throws and scrambles from last preseason. Here are our chief takeaways:
— First of all, NFL Game Pass is free right now. I urge you to spend the time and watch Stidham’s plays from last preseason and not come away with a positive impression. He was not perfect, but he was good.
— Let’s begin easy as we get into the details: One thing Stidham does much better than Brady is scramble. When his receivers are covered and the defense has given him a seam to run through, Stidham isn’t afraid to take off, and he picked up some significant yards and first downs on the ground. Stidham probably carried the ball too much, especially in the Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game against the Giants. All in all, Stidham rushed 17 times for 88 yards.
Extrapolate Stidham’s preseason playing time over a full season, and that would have been over 80 carries for over 400 yards. Only four quarterbacks had over 80 carries and 400 yards last season — Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson. You don’t want Stidham to carry the ball 80 times.
He is mobile, however, and that could become one of his strengths as long as he doesn’t overdo it.
Once again, small sample size and all, but Stidham’s deep accuracy was on point. There’s a case to be made that Stidham throws a better deep ball than Brady. We’re not sure if we’re ready to make that case, but it’s there for the taking.
That’s where we’ll end the comparisons, however, because ultimately the Patriots obviously would have been better off re-signing Brady. Stidham does cost about 1/30th of Brady against the cap, however.
— Stidham’s accuracy, in general, was a strength in the preseason, and he showcased a live arm, as well. He had a handful of balls that could be categorized as low or behind a receiver and a couple of should-be picks, but for the most part, he led his pass-catchers well. Arm strength, especially on deep balls and throws to the sideline, was never an issue. He was throwing darts.
— He does a nice job going through his reads, but Stidham needs to get rid of the ball quicker. Among 20 qualified quarterbacks, Stidham held the ball the third-longest at 3.02 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus. He took 2.77 seconds to attempt a pass, 3.31 to be sacked and 4.83 seconds to scramble. Stidham ate nine sacks in the preseason, so his protection wasn’t always there. But there were times when he had all the time in the world in the pocket, and he won’t have that type of blocking when the games matter.
Young Patriots quarterbacks tend to hold the ball too long. At a certain point, that issue needs to be fixed, and without Brady around, that’s now for Stidham.
— Stidham mostly made sound decisions while facing pressure. His only interception became a pop fly when he was hit while throwing, so, he probably should have held onto that one. He took a few too many sacks, took off running too often and tended to rush throws and lose some of his accuracy while pressure was bearing down.
It was mixed, however. There were times when Stidham evaded pressure well or took a hit while still delivering a strike. It’s an area of improvement, but it’s also not all bad.
As we said, there’s something there. If there wasn’t, then he wouldn’t be put into the unenviable position to replace a legend. Our guess is the Patriots will ease Stidham into the role as a rookie. They won’t put too much on his plate, they’ll rely heavily on the running game, and once the young QB gets comfortable, then they’ll lean on him more.
But this story is incomplete, and because only a small sample exists of his NFL career, we can’t provide a definitive answer to how Stidham will perform with a starting job. He was really good in the preseason, but it was only the preseason. And he made a really bad throw in the regular season. But it was only one throw.
Ultimately, the Patriots must believe in the young quarterback. So, those preseason performances count for something.