Few people have worked as closely with Jarrett Stidham before he went pro as Gus Malzahn: he and the youngster spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons together, with Malzahn serving as the head coach at Auburn and Stidham being the school’s starting quarterback. The veteran coach was therefore in a position to get a close look at a player who is likely to become an NFL starter this season and fill the shoes of the greatest to ever do it.
With Tom Brady now in Tampa Bay, Stidham is the first in line to take over as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback after having spent last year as the number two behind the future Hall of Famer. The situation of starting his career on the bench behind the most experience passer in league history could not have been any better for Stidham, according to Malzahn, and thus have allowed him to build a foundation for Year Two.
“It definitely helped him to learn under the best and see what that looks like, but he’s the kind of young man, too, this is what he’s been waiting on,” the Tigers’ head coach recently told ESPN.com when speaking about Stidham. “I’ll tell you, the moment won’t be too big for him. He’ll be up to the challenge, that’s what I expect.”
Malzahn may be selling his former pupil a bit high, but he certainly has gotten a close look at him after he transferred to Auburn from Baylor. With Stidham at quarterback, the team went 18-9 over a two-year span, while the young passer himself posted some solid numbers along the way: he completed 63.6 percent of his passing attempts (470 of 739) for a total of 5,952 yards while also throwing 36 touchdowns as well as 11 interceptions.
Stidham’s numbers decreased during his final season, but mostly due to some drastic changes in his supporting cast — the team’s top two wide receivers both tore their ACLs during spring training — as well as the fact that Auburn’s offense struggled both to protect him properly and to move the football on the ground with regularity. Nevertheless, Stidham did show a lot of positive traits during his time in the program as Malzahn pointed out.
“Even when he got here, before he played his first game, you could just kind of tell he was a mature young man. Like a gym rat, always at the complex trying to learn, study film,” he said. “He’s a people person, too. He has the ability, right off the bat, to develop relationships. People rally around him. When he first got here, he had spent one-on-one with the coaches, one-on-one time with the players. He just has that ability that people want to follow him.”
“When he got drafted by the Patriots, I thought it was a perfect spot for him system-wise — spreading the field,” Malzahn continued. “He’s so good with protections, changing protections, and scheme-wise everything that goes with it, and just the flexibility the scheme gives him. I think that really applies to his strength.”