His first season at Auburn was a fairly successful one for Jarrett Stidham: the sophomore quarterback, who transferred from Baylor one year earlier, started all fourteen games and completed 246 of his 370 pass attempts (66.5%) for 3,158 yards (8.5 per attempt) as well as 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Leading the Tigers to the SEC championship game, Stidham showed plenty of promise considering that he was a newbie in the system.
Then came 2018, and with it Stidham’s unsuccessful attempt at building on what was a pretty solid 2017 campaign. Across the board, his numbers went down: starting in thirteen games, the junior threw one fewer pass on the season than he did in his previous one, but saw his completion percentage decrease to 60.7% (224 of 369) and his yards per attempt drop to 7.6 per throw (2,794 yards in total). Numbers only tell a part of the story, though.
“I told coach [Josh] McDaniels and coach [Bill] Belichick that there were definitely times last year when for whatever reason, I just decided to get out of the pocket when I shouldn’t have or just didn’t trust my eyes at a certain point or my feet,” Stidham said. “That’s something I’ve obviously been working on this spring up to the draft and it’s something I’m going to have to continue to work at in order to get better at the quarterback position.”
But while Stidham knows that his quality of play was not quite up to par during the 2018 season, he feels confident in his abilities — especially considering that the outside factors were an issue at Auburn last year as well. “I think there’s different things that happen throughout the season, and I think myself, coach [Gus] Malzahn, coach [Chip] Lindsey, if we were all to kind of look back and go back and read through the season, I think we’d just open it up a lot more,” Stidham said.
“When you lose guys like Kerryon Johnson and Braden Smith up front — some of those guys that have a lot of experience — you just have to find out your identity. And I think we found our identity during our bowl game against Purdue,” continued the 22-year-old on a conference call shortly after he got selected in the fourth round of last month’s NFL draft by the New England Patriots.
The world champions, who invested the 133rd overall selection in the Auburn product, apparently felt that Stidham’s play in 2017 and 2015 — he completed 68.8% of his pass attempts at Bailor that year — was more reflective of who he was as a passer than last season’s. Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels also feels that one season is not enough to properly judge Stidham’s or any player’s performance.
“I think the big thing you have to look at when you’re looking at the body of work of a player coming out of the draft is there’s a lot of factors that contribute to good quarterback play and there’s a lot of factors that contribute to play that’s a little bit less than that,” said McDaniels when speaking about the Patriots’ newest quarterback last week. “You take all the good and the bad and you try to understand why it was or wasn’t something.”
“If a guy misses a throw, sometimes that’s his fault and sometimes it’s not. There’s protection that goes along with that, plays, design, all the rest of it,” continued McDaniels. “Every quarterback that we’ve ever evaluated here, we try to take and look at it in the big picture. What does he do well? What traits does he possess? And then you try to factor those in to what we try to do here.”
When it comes to himself, Stidham would name leadership and confidence as two of the defining characteristics that he possesses and quarterbacks in general should have. “You’ve got to go into a locker room — people are looking at the quarterback as one of the leaders of the team and somebody that really has to propel a team forward,” the rookie said. “I think that’s always been one of my biggest traits”
“On the football side of things, I’ve always been able to make any throw on the field and I’ve been able to adapt my situation. At Baylor, I had one offense. At Auburn, I had a different offense. Being able to adapt to different situations like that, I think I’ve done a really good job at,” Stidham continued before also mentioning his love for the game itself. “Whether it’s college, pro, I just love learning more about football and picking people’s brains and that sort of thing. I would definitely say I’m a football junkie.”
Football junkie or not, Stidham has considerable work ahead of him as McDaniels was quick to point out. “They all come in and have so much to learn,” the long-time play caller said. “It’s really about traits and the opportunity to try to take a clean slate and then fill it with whatever you want to fill it with. I would say that applies to all our players but quarterbacks in particular, they come in with a specific background, they’ve been taught something, usually it doesn’t mesh with what we do here because college football is so different now.”
Stidham, however, is looking forward to the challenge awaiting him. “I’m really looking forward to doing that, and there’s no one better to learn from than coach McDaniels and coach Belichick and those guys in the quarterback room,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to sit here and be a Patriot and further my career a little bit.”