With about a month to go until the 2019 NFL draft, now is the time when teams and scouting departments are finalizing their draft boards, both at each individual position and their overall board. Here at Pats Pulpit we are doing the same, trying to construct what might be the New England Patriots’ board at the position. In this installment we take a look at perhaps the enigma of this quarterback class, a player who has been in two distinctly different offenses and whose best work might have taken place in Mobile for the Senior Bowl.
Let’s talk about Jarrett Stidham
A highly regarded recruit from the state of Texas, Stidham was rated as the sixth-best dual-threat quarterback in his class by Rivals.com, and was evaluated as a four star recruit. After originally committing to Texas Tech, Stidham changed course and enrolled at Baylor University.
Stidham earned the backup job as a true freshman, behind Seth Russell. He appeared in a handful of games in mop-up duty, until Russell suffered a season-ending back injury. Stidham was pressed into action and made his first career start against Kansas State, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another score. The following week against Oklahoma, Stidham suffered a back injury early in the game but stayed in the contest, throwing for two touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss to the Sooners.
Stidham started the following week against Oklahoma State, but did not finish the game. In addition to the lingering back injury Stidham suffered hand and ankle injuries, and he was eventually shut down for the season. The extent of the ankle injury was worse than originally thought, as he had chipped a bone in the ankle.
That decision was announced by Art Briles, who a few months later would find his contract terminated by the university in the wake of Baylor’s sexual assault scandal. As a result, Stidham left the school and sought a transfer.
Stidham spent one semester at community college, before enrolling at Auburn University for the 2017 season. He won the starting quarterback job in preseason camp, and he led the Tigers to the SEC West Championship. Stidham completed 66.5% of his passes that year for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns against six interceptions. However, the Tigers lost in the SEC Championship game, a rematch against the University of Georgia, and their national championship hopes were dashed as a result.
Stidham and the Tigers had high aspirations for the 2018 season, and his final collegiate campaign started off on a very high note. Auburn began the year ranked sixth in the nation, and squared off against then-number nine Washington in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Auburn won that contest as well as their second game of the season, but in their third game they lost their SEC opener against LSU. Back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee saw the Tigers fall out of the Top 25, and a blowout loss in the Iron Bowl ended any chances the Tigers had of ruining Alabama’s season. Stidham and company took out their frustrations from the year on Purdue in the Music City Bowl, winning 63-14, but it was largely a year of disappointment. Stidham’s touchdown to interception ratio was similar to 2017, as he threw for 18 touchdown and just five interceptions, but he completed 60.7% of his passes for just 2,794 yards.
Stidham decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the draft. He was given an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he found a supporter in executive director Jim Nagy:
Congrats, @Jarrett_Stidham! Good scouts always evaluate the environment around a player, especially at QB position. Stidham (and @AuburnFootball ) didn’t have the season many expected but he still made plenty elite starter-level throws. He could be the talk of @seniorbowl week. pic.twitter.com/d6T2xr6D2j— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 8, 2018
Stidham flashes some intriguing traits as a passer. It begins with his arm. While he does not grab the headlines or generate the buzz with his arm that other quarterbacks, such as Jackson, Drew Lock and Kyler Murray do, Stidham is no slouch when it comes to his arm talent. This throw against Mississippi State is a good example:
This comes on a vertical concept that could be a component of any future playbook of his. This is a dual comeback design, sometimes known as 585 in the Coryell world, with a post route in the middle of the field. Stidham (#8) delivers this from the right hashmark to the left sideline, and you can also see him work through his progression reads on this play, as he opens to the middle of the field to check the post, then peeks at the comeback route to the right, before delivering a strike back to the left sideline.
Stidham’s prowess in the vertical passing game is a function of both his arm strength and his ability to use touch. On this play against Mississippi State, the Tigers run a vertical concept with a backside go route, and then a Peel (post/wheel) combination on the right. Here, Stidham checks the go route on the left and, seeing it covered, comes off of it to work the Peel on the right. However, pressure nearly gets home and he is forced to make this throw to the wheel route under duress, but he still manages to drop it into a bucket:
Here’s another angle of this play, where you can see Stidham work through his reads and deliver the throw:
This throw under duress leads us to another strength of Stidham’s, which is his ability to handle the pocket well. Whether he needs to click and climb to evade edge pressure, slide to the outside to buy time or even escape out the back door, Stidham can move well in the pocket while still keeping his eyes downfield to read passing concepts.
On this play against Georgia Southern from 2017, he faces initial pressure off the edge, and quickly climbs the pocket. But in response to late pressure in his face, he slides to his right while keeping his eyes downfield before making an accurate throw on the move:
But he is also a fighter in the pocket, who will remain calm as the pressure starts to build and hang in there to make a throw. On this play against Mississippi, Stidham is blitzed but he trusts in his protection, rather than bailing out of the pocket. He delivers a well-placed throw to move the chains in this long yardage situation, getting the ball over the underneath defender but making the throw with more than enough velocity to prevent the safety from getting to the spot:
Stidham’s relative calmness in the pocket shows up in other ways. Take, for example, this 3rd and 13 play against Alabama. The Crimson Tide bring a delayed blitz from the second level, while dropping into a soft coverage behind it to take away the vertical passing concepts. Stidham knows the pressure is going to get home, but he calmly slides a bit to create time in the pocket, then replaces the blitz from the second level with a checkdown to his running back in the middle of the field:
Another strength of Stidham’s is his ability to make anticipation throws. These are usually an indicator of the QB’s comfort with a route design as well as his processing speed. Stidham’s ability to deliver anticipation throws is a good sign for his development. For example, on this play against Georgia Southern he throws the backside hitch against soft coverage, getting the ball out well before the break. Even though the cornerback closes quickly, Stidham’s anticipation on this throw leads to yardage after the catch:
Notable here is that the cornerback initially shows press coverage, but bails at the snap. Stidham reads this perfectly, and while it’s easy to make an anticipation throw when you see the CB playing eight yards off during the entire pre-snap phase, doing it as Stidham does here when you have to read it on the fly is more impressive.
The Auburn product is also good on timing and rhythm throws, as he is here on this play against LSU:
Stidham takes a one-step drop out of the mesh with the running back and with a hitch delivers this post route to split the safeties with perfect timing and rhythm.
Timing and rhythm throws will be critical for his projection into a New England offense. Thankfully for Stidham, this is an area where he tends to do very good work:
The timing and execution on this play is perfect. The hitch route gets minimal separation from the press coverage on the outside, but it gets enough. Thanks to the perfect timing from Stidham, Auburn is able to connect on this play. If the quarterback waits a second longer to make this throw, the cornerback likely breaks on the throw and prevents the completion.
In addition, when watching Stidham you can find glimpses of Patriots’ offensive designs, even in Auburn’s option offense under Malzahn. For example, you can see him running Gotti, a two-receiver combination with a go route on the outside and an option route on the inside from the slot receiver. This is one of the core concepts in the Patriots’ offense. You can see him also running Peel, a post/wheel combination previously broken down, that is also a component of New England’s passing game.
Another minor thing to note with him is that Stidham does the little things well, in terms of carrying out play-action fakes and ball fakes after a handoff. He even will track down his throws towards the target after releasing them, so he is in better position in case of an interception. Small, minor things that coaches appreciate.
In the end, with Stidham it comes back to the arm talent. One of the toughest routes to throw in football is the corner route, particularly into the end zone, because of the complexities involved. You need to drop this over the trailing defender with some touch, but use enough velocity to get it in before the other two defenders - the endline and the sideline - come into play. Watch as Stidham does it perfectly here:
As I wrote in my notes when watching this play the first time, this is simply gorgeous.
One area to watch with Stidham is repeated mistakes. When you see a quarterback make the same mistake over the course of a game, or a season, you can have some deserved hesitation about their ability to learn from errors and grow as a player.
In Week 3 against LSU, Stidham’s first pass went for an interception:
A few weeks later, Stidham opens the game this way against Mississippi State:
See the similarities? Both plays are a sprint-out design to the right where Stidham looks to throw a hitch route. On both plays, Stidham is far too late with his read and throw, and the first play gets intercepted and frankly, with better coverage and effort the second throw could have been picked as well. Repeated mistakes like this are something to watch.
This gets to another issue with Stidham. While he can make anticipation throws, as outlined previously, he does also hesitate at times in the pocket and it can lead to trouble for him. On this play against Mississippi State, he tries to split the safeties on a post route but the throw comes far too late, and Stidham is lucky it is not intercepted:
Stidham was also inconsistent with his ball placement over the past season, and missed some opportunities in the vertical passing game. Against Mississippi State he had a deep route wide open for a touchdown off of a flea-flicker, but he missed the throw badly and the Tigers missed out on a chance for an easy six points.
Stidham also has a bit of a loop/draw to his motion at times, which when combined with his occasional hesitation, can lead to problems.
Finally, there is the issue of the offense he was running the past few seasons under Gus Malzahn. It might have miscast him as more of an option quarterback than he was suited for. When the Tigers ran more traditional dropback/vertical concepts, he looked good, but some of the other designs were not the best fit for him. That makes him a bit more of an enigma.
We can start, as we have with the other prospects, with the Parcells Rules. While Stidham does not check all seven boxes like Brett Rypien and Ryan Finley, he hits five of the marks. Stidham was a senior and did graduate, he started more than 30 games, he passed the 60 percent completion percentage threshold, and his touchdown to interception mark of 48:13 tops the 2:1 standard. The only two he missed were winning 23 games (perhaps a surprise given his two seasons at Auburn) and three years as a starter. Stidham started two full seasons, and a handful of games during his year at Baylor. So, solid in this regard but not on the same level as Rypien and Finley.
As for the scheme portion. At this point I should outline for the dear readers a bit of my own process of evaluation. My summers are spent gardening, getting less pool time than I want, and watching every single quarterback I can think of in preparation for the upcoming season. Last summer I studied 40 different quarterbacks, many of whom were never even considered draftable prospects.
During that process I try and identify a potential scheme fit for each player, and Stidham last summer was no exception. When I finished up watching a handful of his games from the 2017 season, I came away believing he was a pretty scheme diverse quarterback.
That position weakened a bit over the fall and into this draft season. I think on a trait basis, Stidham has the raw tools to fit into a variety of offenses, but he might be more narrowly tailored than I first imagined. Looking at his background at first Baylor, and then digging deep into some of the route concepts Malzahn called at Auburn, his most familiar fit. A lot of Auburn’s designs incorporated Coryell concepts, and Stidham was generally solid on vertical route designs.
But then you see Stidham down in Mobile (and talk to him about the week) and you see and hear just how comfortable he was in an offense like Kyle Shanahan’s, so perhaps that is the answer.
Ultimately there is enough from his film to think that the fit in New England could work. You have film of him running Patriots’ concepts, and Josh McDaniels certainly has the ability to tailor an offense to the skillset of his quarterback, and not force Stidham into designs that are not ideal for his traits. With time to draft a quarterback to sit behind Tom Brady and develop, finding the ideal scheme fit might not be the goal for the Patriots’ front office when identifying their next QB, but rather whether that player’s traits fit with what they value at the position. Stidham, despite having some shaky moments on film, does have many of the traits they seek in quarterbacks.
The Bottom Line
Stidham has enjoyed a solid pre-draft process, starting with a solid week down in Mobile and through the Combine and his early Pro Day. Based on tape alone, he might be a stretch for a Day Two selection, but his showing the past few months has seen him move up boards. I would expect him now to be selected sometime on Friday of the draft.
Stidham has the tools to become a starter in this league, it is just a matter of getting him into the right offense and situations, with some weapons around him, to achieve early success. He was at his best (Auburn in 2017) when the team did not ask a ton from him. The Patriots, with the pieces they have in place, would be such a situation.
Ultimately the question with Stidham is what quarterback are you going to get: Are you getting the player we saw down in Mobile, or the player we saw on tape this past season? At his best Stidham is a fairly scheme diverse quarterback, who can execute on timing and rhythm throws, on vertical concepts, and can show enough athleticism to extend plays and deliver in scramble drill situations. For a team that is looking to develop a future starter, and not draft an immediate one, Stidham would be a solid value selection. Given that the Patriots are in that exact position, a Stidham pick by New England might be the ideal marriage between prospect, situation and scheme.