For the first time in over two decades, whoever lines up under center for the New England Patriots come Week 1 will have to truly earn it after a strong summer and preseason.
I know, this has been a tough few days for Patriots fans. They went from Super Bowl contenders like they always have been (assuming Tom Brady was back) to a team that may expect to experience some growing pains, especially offensively, for at least the next year.
Obviously, there are some veteran quarterback out there that could come to New England via trade or free agency (i.e. Cam Newton or Jameis Winston — yuck!) but as it sits right now, I’m all for Jarrett Stidham to carry the torch and be the Patriots’ next quarterback.
Now, before you close the tab and stop reading this, I want to get into some things that make this decision reasonable. Stidham was a fourth-round draft pick last year after two, average at best, years at Auburn. However, he shined in his first training camp and preseason, primarily because of what the Patriots look for in their quarterbacks — he’s big, smart, makes the right reads, processes information well and throws a nice, tight ball.
Stidham, who was a five-star quarterback out of Stephensville, Texas and always had a first arm and accuracy, shined as a true freshman at Baylor was a projected first-round pick in a draft that produced Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. A transfer to Auburn after his freshman year, however, took a hit on his draft stock as he became much more of a game manager and was not used to the best of his best abilities.
Former Patriots front office member Michael Lombardi has been a fan of Stidham since his Baylor days and said the following about him on his podcast last year: “Really, if the kid was smart, he would have stayed at Baylor with Matt Rhule. Because if he plays with Matt Rhule at Baylor, he’s probably going to throw. He probably would have been a first- or second-round pick. He’s easily better than Daniel Jones if he plays in an offense that would have highlighted what he can do.”
Lombardi later went into what Stidham went through at Auburn and how the school’s offense ended up hurting his draft stock in 2019. “That offense at Auburn, I’m not sure what the hell it is, they run power, they run unbalanced. Anyway, that offense, seriously, might be one of the worst offenses in football. So you can’t evaluate a quarterback in it or they can’t train a quarterback, that’s the other thing, Gus Malzahn can’t train them.”
Stidham’s time at Auburn wasn’t all bad, though, as he beat a pair of number one teams in Georgia and Alabama. All in all, he completed 64% of his passes and threw for over 5,000 yards and 36 touchdowns while turning the ball over only 13 times in three collegiate seasons.
Once he got to New England, he backed up Tom Brady his first year and soaked everything in — just like Brady did when Drew Bledsoe was ahead of him on the depth chart during his own rookie season in 2000. Although, like many of the backups during Brady’s tenure with the Patriots, he was not really given any game day experience — only throwing four passes during the 2019 season, all in a Week 3 blowout win over the New York Jets.
However, his pre-season was quite impressive and somewhat surprising as well.
Stidham shined in his first outing in Detroit, going 14-for-24 for 179 yards and a touchdown to go with four rushing attempts for an additional 22 yards. He then followed that up with an impressive game in Tennessee, going 14-for-19 for 193 yards and another touchdown pass. Stidham’s strong preseason was enough for him to gain head coach Bill Belichick’s trust as the number two on the quarterback depth chart — a move that led to the Patriots parting ways with longtime Brady backup Brian Hoyer.
Here is a closer look at Stidham’s highlights from that preseason. As can be seen, he made some good decisions with the football and knew when to leave the pocket and extend plays with his legs:
Stidham in camp & pre-season showed great poise & decision making for a fourth round pick and was praised all year by how well he processed information. He has the mobility and can get the ball out quick and accurate. Roll the with #4. #Patriotspic.twitter.com/oLL2L2vhLr— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) March 19, 2020
Stidham won’t be the next Tom Brady — there will never be another one — but with him still on a rookie deal for the next three seasons, it gives the Patriots the cap flexibility to build a competent team around him. He may not have shined during his rookie season, but given the talent the Patriots have drafted at the quarterback position the last few years — Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett — New England should give him a shot and see what kind of offense Josh McDaniels can draw up for No. 4.
The 23-year-old is a different type of quarterback than what the Patriots and their fans are used to, but he is deserving of getting a strong look at taking over the reigns at the position going forward. The Patriots may not be competing for a Super Bowl this upcoming season, so to heck with bringing in a veteran bridge quarterback — roll the dice with Jarrett Stidham and see what you have got for years to come.