As the calendar flips to June and the (expected) start of Patriots training camp draws closer, we’re taking a position-by-position look at New England’s 90-man roster.
First up: the quarterbacks.
POSITION GROUP BREAKDOWN
Roster locks: Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Long shots: Brian Lewerke, J’Mar Smith
MOST TO PROVE
With Tom Brady now in Tampa Bay, his old job — and the immense pressure and scrutiny that comes with it — is Stidham’s to lose.
The Auburn product has very little regular-season NFL experience — he appeared only in garbage time as a rookie — but showed great potential last summer and received unspoken votes of confidence when the Patriots declined to either pursue any big-name free agent QBs or draft another signal-caller.
Stidham’s first challenge will be winning the starting job from the more experienced Hoyer, whom he already beat out for the top backup spot a year ago.
One of the prevailing storylines of the 2020 NFL Draft for the Patriots was their surprising decision to pass on all QBs. They did add some competition at the position through undrafted free agency, though, taking fliers on Smith (out of Louisiana Tech) and Lewerke (Michigan State).
Of the two, Smith received more guaranteed money ($30,000 to Lewerke’s $2,500) and is the more intriguing prospect, completing 64.3 percent of his passes last season and making a number of eye-popping completions on off-platform throws. He’ll be a player to watch in camp.
BY THE NUMBERS
Four: The number of regular-season passes Stidham has thrown in his NFL career.
Oct. 2, 2016: The last time Hoyer’s team won a game he started. The 34-year-old, who’s now in his third stint with the Patriots after signing in March, is winless in his last 10 starts (three with Chicago, six with San Francisco, one with Indianapolis).
Zero: The total number of games Stidham and Hoyer have started for New England.
THREE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Who will start Week 1? Stidham’s ceiling is infinitely higher than Hoyer’s, and he outperformed his veteran teammate last August. The starting job won’t be handed to Stidham, though, and it would not be surprising to see Hoyer take the first reps of training camp — his sixth with the Patriots. Still, based on all we’ve seen from and heard about Stidham over the past year, we do expect the 2019 fourth-round draft pick to be behind center when the Patriots host the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13. Will he be a worthy successor to Brady? That’s impossible to know until he sees legitimate regular-season action.
2. What will the offense look like? Regardless of who wins the QB competition, expect Josh McDaniels’ system to undergo some noticeable changes this season. What kind of changes? That remains to be seen. Perhaps the Patriots will lean more on the running game with their entire 2019 backfield set to return and their offensive line seemingly improved. They’ll certainly simplify some of their reads and concepts in the passing game, as neither Stidham nor Hoyer possesses Brady’s elite ability to read the field and diagnose defenses. Dialing down the offense’s complexity would benefit young receivers like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers who struggled to meet Brady’s demanding standards last season. If Stidham is the guy, McDaniels also would be wise to implement more rollouts and other plays that take advantage of the young passer’s mobility. Stidham is no Lamar Jackson, but he averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 17 scrambles last preseason and is far more nimble than his “Clydesdale” predecessor.
3. Will the Patriots keep three QBs? The most likely landing spot for either Smith or Lewerke is on the practice squad, especially with the decreased practice reps both will see this offseason due to the NFL’s COVID-19 shutdown. There is a chance, though, that New England could opt to roster one of the UDFAs as QB3 behind Stidham and Hoyer if they’re intrigued by his potential and worried about losing him to a waiver claim. We’re higher on Smith than Lewerke, whose final two collegiate seasons were a bit of a mess.