The Patriots will have someone other than Tom Brady under center for the first time in 20 seasons when, hopefully, eventually, the 2020 NFL season begins.
The plan for New England is to “pencil in” 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham as the starter.
But before you scoff at preseason tape or bring up his regular-season pick-six, let’s be clear: we are not putting Stidham in the Pats Hall of Fame yet, and he will need to earn the starting job.
With that said, there’s some useful background information from his college days and anecdotes from Patriot teammates that have people in the building excited.
After starting only three games as a freshman, Stidham decided to transfer from Baylor University to Auburn University in search of more playing time.
Studying the 2019 QB class and #Auburn's Jarrett Stidham is impressive. He does a lot of little things that are advanced for a college QB. Here, confirms its C2, but notices the safeties playing shallow. Pumps to the left and then comes back to the far right for the TD. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/nrs2Y9n8mo
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) May 23, 2018
Once he arrived in Alabama, Stidham started back-to-back seasons for the Tigers, but it was in 2017 that he showed the first-round talent that initially had him near the top of the 2019 class.
The #Patriots reportedly met with Jarrett Stidham as they do their due diligence on the QB class. Career stats look good (64.3 comp%, 8.5 YPA, 48 TDs, 13 INTs), but he's one of the least accurate quarterbacks in this class. Has trouble hitting both drive throws and deep balls. pic.twitter.com/6pb1nykc8z
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 16, 2019
However, Stidham went from ascending prospect to mid-round pick when he lost his confidence and poise in the pocket in his junior season, which coincided with departures to the NFL by key players on the Tigers offense.
For example, starting running back Kerryon Johnson (Lions) and guard Braden Smith (Colts) were drafted in the second round in 2018.
Without the pieces around him, and in an odd scheme fit to begin with, Stidham struggled, but the Pats are hoping they can bring out the best in the 23-year-old.
In his first season in New England, Stidham beat out veteran Brian Hoyer to be QB2 behind Tom Brady. And because of bumps and bruises to Brady, Stidham took his fair share of first-team reps at practice.
Stidham had teammates applauding his efforts both on and off the record, explaining how the young quarterback made “jaw-dropping” throws and was reading coverages at an advanced level.
Patriots longtime captain Devin McCourty recently said on his podcast with brother Jason, “there were weeks where he was just on point. And those were some of our best weeks as a defense, mainly because Stiddy ate us up in practice leading up to the game.”
“I love his poise,” McCourty continued. “I would be faking a blitz sometimes, and we’d make eye contact, and he’d just start smiling and laughing.”
Other Pats defenders told me during the season that Stidham was making highly-competitive throws, and they too were impressed at how Stidham reacted to the top-ranked defense in the NFL throwing different coverages and pressure packages at him.
There’s also Stidham’s impressive preseason and training camp last summer.
Stidham had an adjusted completion percentage of 78.5, which accounts for eight drops of on-target throws, and is noticeably higher than both Jimmy Garoppolo (67.1) and Jacoby Brissett (74.1) in their rookie preseasons.
The Pats quarterback also had five “big-time” throws and a sensational 89.4 passing grade in clean pockets, according to Pro Football Focus, which are indicators of future success.
We understand that preseason is vanilla football against backups and even players that don’t make NFL rosters. But Stidham’s passing ability and mental process were on-point both in August and behind closed doors at practice, and that’s why he’s the frontrunner to replace Tom Brady.
After reviewing all of Stidham’s 2019 preseason snaps, here’s an in-depth look at the likely next starter in New England:
Pro Football Focus tracks what they deem to be “big-time” throws, or in other words, when the quarterback drops a dime.
As mentioned above, Stidham had five big-time throws last preseason, so let’s break down a few of them.
PASSING WITH ANTICIPATION
One of the most important traits for a Patriots quarterback is the ability to throw with anticipation to all areas of the field, but especially between the numbers.
For Bill Belichick, it’s what made him fall in love with Brady, Garoppolo, and potentially now Stidham.
Throwing with anticipation means you’re releasing the ball before the receiver comes out of his break or releasing the ball early to lead the receiver away from the coverage.
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On one of his best throws, Stidham threw a laser over the middle to Jakobi Meyers, where he perfectly anticipates the linebackers’ drop, releasing the ball before Meyers clears the underneath defender. Turn up the volume to hear a more in-depth breakdown of the play.
DEEP BALL DIMES
Stidham’s best trait as a passer is his arm talent, which doesn’t always mean pure arm strength, although he has plenty, but also the ability to control the football with the right pace.
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We could show you a few dimes by Stidham on conventional deep balls, and those are pretty too, but it’s the passes where he throws receivers open that are more impressive.
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Here, Stidham likes the matchup at the top of the screen for speedster Damoun Patterson against Titans cornerback Kenneth Durden, who did make the roster. The Titans are in cover-1 man with a deep safety in the middle of the field. Stidham sees the safety shade away from Patterson, so he knows he has him one-on-one, but Durden is right in Patterson’s hip pocket. Instead of throwing a conventional deep ball, Stidham puts the ball on Patterson’s back shoulder, bringing him away from the coverage. Patterson makes the adjustment and the catch on a perfectly placed pass.
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Stidham made another great pass to “pull the string” on a touchdown toss to Demaryius Thomas. Again, the defense is in single-high man, and Stidham works the one-on-one matchup with the corner staying even with the receiver, preventing a pass over the top. This time, he throws the ball short of his intended target, and the veteran Thomas has the savvy to slam on the breaks and come back to the ball.
UNDERSTANDING PASSING LANES & POCKET POISE
Stidham understands where defenders are dropping and roaming in coverage, which helps him make the right decisions with the ball.
Stidham will wait for defenders to clear out, or manipulate them out of the passing lane, to create throwing windows to open receivers downfield.
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He’s not afraid to stand in against oncoming pass-rushers and take hits, showing great poise and calmness in the pocket even when things break down. In the audio breakdown above, Stidham takes a shot in the pocket as he waits for the defender manned on the tight end to work his way out of a passing lane to Braxton Berrios.
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Next, Stidham is working off of play-action, where he averaged over nine yards per attempt in the preseason. When he gets his eyes upfield, he sees the linebacker dropping quickly into the passing lane. Instead of throwing on his first hitch, Stidham stays patient, keeps his eyes locked to keep the linebacker moving in the opposite direction, and then comes back to Maurice Harris in the second window once he clears the underneath defender. Stuff like that looks rudimentary, but even NFL quarterbacks lose track of underneath linebackers.
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Here’s another example of Stidham sniffing out a blitz and getting the ball out on time. The Patriots motion into an empty formation, which signals to the quarterback that he’s “hot” because he doesn’t have a blocker to pick up the extra rusher. Stidham’s “hot” is Meyers over the middle, and he finds his outlet quickly to beat the blitz.
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One last example as Stidham utilizes a pump fake to get a defensive lineman out of his passing lane. Stidham knows he has Meyers open the entire time, but he’s got a big paw in the away courtesy of the defensive tackle. Stidham pumps to get the defender in the air and then makes the toss to Meyers once the threat of a batted pass is gone.
MOBILITY & ATHLETICISM
Lastly, there’s an added mobility factor with Stidham, who isn’t Lamar Jackson by any stretch of the imagination but did test as an above-average athlete at the 2019 scouting combine.
Although Stidham had 17 rushes for 88 yards in the preseason, which equates to over 350 yards on 68 carries over 16 games, it’s not his threat as a ball carrier that we like necessarily.
And this is an area where going up against backups will make Stidham look faster.
Instead, Stidham’s mobility helps him extend plays and make throws on the move.
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On his second touchdown pass to Thomas in the preseason finale, Stidham finds himself holding the ball in the pocket without an open receiver. Instead of taking off for the pylon, Stidham rolls out to force the defense to react to him. Once they creep up to defend the quarterback, Stidham lofts it over their heads for a touchdown.
Stidham’s mobility also helps him evade oncoming pass rushers and keep plays alive.
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Here, he feels his right tackle get beat to the inside. Stidham very calmly steps around the pressure to get outside the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, and delivers a strong throw on the move for a first down.
Don’t expect Stidham to be an elite ball carrier. But he can extend plays, make throws on the move, or catch the defense by surprise with a designed QB keeper.
QUICK PASSING GAME & SIDELINE THROWS
As is the case with many offenses, the Patriots like to get their quarterbacks in-rhythm and their offense on schedule with a quick passing attack, and Stidham handled that well too.
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Here, the Pats ran a spot concept, which is typically a three-receiver route combination where the quarterback is reading the flat defender. The scheme gives them a “spot” route usually five yards or at the sticks, a flat pattern, and a clear-out or vertical. Stidham reads the flat defender release with the fullback and quickly makes an easy throw to Meyers on the spot route. If the flat defender sits, he’ll hit the fullback coming out of the backfield.
New England will also give the quarterback the option of hitting a quick out to the sideline if the corner is playing off with a lot of cushion.
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On this play, the corner starts off of Meyers, so Stidham bypasses play-action to get to the top of his drop and rifle an on the money far-hash throw for a first down.
Both of these plays look easy, and they are relative to others, but every offense needs to make the layups as well.
Although Stidham’s tape and reviews behind the scenes are overwhelmingly positive, there are always areas where players can improve, especially heading into their second season.
For Stidham, there are two primary concerns. First, he holds onto the ball longer than he should. Stidham took 2.77 seconds on average to release the ball, which is a far cry from Brady’s lightning-quick release (2.58s in 2019), and part of the reason why he took nine sacks.
Second, Stidham made six turnover worthy plays, which is on the higher end of the spectrum and coincides with his time in the pocket.
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On most of those turnover worthy mistakes, Stidham was trying too hard to make a play, and even NFL backups close a lot faster than defenders in college. In fairness, delayed processing speed and a propensity to turn the ball over are rookie issues.
As he gets more comfortable with the offense and the speed of the game, he’ll hopefully get through progressions faster and live to see another day when there’s nothing there.
And if those are his two biggest concerns, it’s significantly better than lacking the physical tools or the knowledge of NFL coverage systems and how to read them properly.
Stidham is far from complete, and there will be growing pains, but his physical tools and overall process are starting-caliber. Now, it’s on him to put it all together.