The New England Patriots will face an enormous challenge this offseason: getting a new quarterback ready to fill the spot previously held by six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. The frontrunner at the moment seems to be Jarrett Stidham, a second-year passer out of Auburn that won the backup role behind Brady last summer but went on to attempt only four regular season throws in 2019 — with one of which resulting in a pick-six.
Despite what was an unspectacular rookie campaign on the surface, however, the Patriots appear to be comfortable handing the keys over to Stidham. They were reportedly impressed with his work behind the scenes and in practice throughout the season, and did also not pursue any of the big-name quarterbacks to enter free agency this year (the only outside acquisition was Brian Hoyer returning for a third stint with the organization).
All signs points towards the Patriots trying their luck with Stidham, and giving him every opportunity to earn the starting position in Year One after Brady. But while the 23-year-old lacks experience and has virtually no track record at the pro level, there is reason for optimism in New England — at least according to a man who knows a thing or two about playing quarterback in the NFL: ex-Detroit Lions passer Dan Orlovsky.
Orlovsky now works as an analyst at ESPN, but regularly takes to social media to give additional insight into plays and players. In Stidham’s case, he pointed out three traits that might be a reason why the Patriots are comfortable rolling into 2020 with the former fourth-round draft pick under center:
The @Patriots are showing some support for @Jarrett_Stidham & you can see why from last pre-season. 3 traits over 2 plays that show you some good stuff See what happens over next few months! @MikeGiardi @RochieWBZ @patspulpit @PatsFans @BenVolin @MikeReiss #NFLGamePass pic.twitter.com/v5WEkz8adJ— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) March 23, 2020
The video above shows two plays from the Patriots’ third preseason game last year, and Stidham’s upside is on display on both of them. The three traits specifically mentioned, meanwhile, are as follows:
1. Feel for the pocket
“Number one, and this was the case for him coming out of Auburn: really good feel for the pocket. Really good feel for when to climb, where to climb, how to move. Great understanding of that. That’s difficult to coach into a guy, especially a young guy.” — Dan Orlovsky
Stidham only saw extended action during the preseason, but he displayed this trait on a regular basis. He regularly climbed the pocket to buy additional time or create throwing lanes — something Tom Brady did on as high a level as any other quarterback — while simultaneously not being afraid to stand in the pocket and take a hit. Despite his relative inexperience playing against NFL talent, he showed a natural poise and calmness.
As Orlovsky pointed out, that is not something that can easily be coached. Passers need to have a feel for reading the blocking up front correctly, and they also need to be willing to wait until the last second to let go of the football if need be. Stidham, based on his preseason tape, does.
“Because he’s got a good, live arm he’s really good at attacking in between the numbers. And I believe that’s an organizational philosophy for New England, one of the reasons why they have had such good offensive success. He’s really good at attacking right around these hashes.” — Dan Orlovsky
As Orlovsky pointed out, the Patriots place a high value on quarterbacks being able to successfully attack between the numbers and throw anticipatory passes in the short-and-intermediate range. Even though his opportunities were limited and he went against second-tier competition for most of the preseason, Stidham showed that he can deliver those passes with zip, and also accurately connect with receivers even when they are not yet out of their breaks at the moment he releases the ball.
Speaking of Stidham’s release. While he needs to get rid of the football quicker — Stidham took 2.77 seconds on average to let go of the ball, according to CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar, compared to Brady’s 2.58 last year — his natural arm talent in combination with more experience should help him improve in this area.
3. Understanding of the game
“He’s got a really good understanding of A-plus-B-equals-C on their offense. If this guy does this, then this guy has to do that.” — Dan Orlovsky
The more a quarterback knows, the better he will be prepared for what the defense might throw at him. Tom Brady was as good as any player in NFL history at that, and built a Hall of Fame career with his high football IQ at the bottom of it. That said, Stidham has also shown that he can quickly process information and properly apply his knowledge of the game. He obviously is not on Brady’s level yet, but he appears to have a good grasp of coverage concepts and both passing lanes and co-dependent patterns.
More experience, especially against the A-level talent he will face during the regular season, will help him get up to speed even faster. However, despite there being obvious room for improvement, he already looked good in this area even during his first taste of NFL action.
All in all, Stidham will get plenty of opportunities over the next few months to keep building on the groundwork that was laid last preseason and behind the scenes in 2019. There will be growing pains, but the three traits mentioned by Orlovsky should help him overcome those and take the next step towards becoming an NFL-caliber starting quarterback. Brady was able to build from a similar foundation, now Stidham has to show he can do it as well.