Will Hastings Takeaways: Can Patriots Rookie Return To Form With Jarrett Stidham?

It’s slightly amazing that wide receiver Will Hastings is even getting a shot in the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots, but it comes in ideal circumstances.

The undersized slot receiver initially walked on to Auburn as an onside kickoff specialist in 2015. He received a scholarship as a wide receiver the same year current Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham was eligible to start for the Tigers, and the two players showed impressive chemistry, connecting 26 times for 525 yards with four touchdowns in 2017.

They should have built on that rapport in 2018, but Hastings tore his ACL in March. He underwent surgery, tried to rush back but had to go back under the knife seven months later. Hastings didn’t register a single reception in 2018, and Stidham suffered for it. After completing 66.5 percent of his passes with a 151 passer rating in 2017, Stidham took a step back, completing 60.7 percent of his passes with a 137.7 passer rating as a junior before entering the draft and being selected in the fourth round by the Patriots.

Hastings returned in 2019 and caught just 19 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown as a senior.

Hastings was a player that stood out while watching Stidham’s sophomore tape after the Patriots selected the QB in 2019. Despite his smaller stature at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Hastings (No. 33) did some of his best work on deeper targets in 2017.

He showed impressive toughness when he knew a hit was coming and the field awareness to sit down in zone coverage.

Hastings’ best trait was his instinct to find space to pick up yards after making a catch and to immediately and smoothly accelerate upfield.

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The biggest question is whether his quickness remains after two surgeries.

Hastings received fewer opportunities in 2019, and freshman quarterback Bo Nix wasn’t as efficient as Stidham. Still, Hastings didn’t look quite as agile in his return to the field.

He did run a rabbit-quick 6.55-second three-cone drill at his pro day in March with an impressive 4.03-second short shuttle. He also ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash with a 33-inch vertical leap and 9-feet, 8-inch broad jump.

Hastings is definitely worthy of a free-agency flier. He showed off elite agility and quickness while working with Stidham in 2017. The Patriots have had their fair share of slot receivers come through Gillette Stadium since 2000, but Hastings’ ability to make a catch and accelerate upfield ranks among the best of them. It’s hard not to see Wes Welker when Hastings is making deep catches or turning upfield.

If Hastings can regain that quickness two years removed from his last surgery, then it’s possible the Patriots are getting a steal in the Auburn product. It certainly should help that he’s back to working with Stidham, who was excited to learn the Patriots had signed his former slot receiver.

At Auburn, Hastings wasn’t as good without Stidham and vice versa. There isn’t a better QB that Hastings could be working with to get his shot at NFL glory. If the Patriots ever reconvene for training camp, we’ll see if Hastings and Stidham can pick up where they left off.

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Thumbnail photo via Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports Images

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