Other than Joe Burrow, who is a rookie, it’s looking like no NFL starting quarterback in Week 1 will be a bigger mystery than the guy taking over for Tom Brady. And we saw plenty of Burrow at LSU last season.
If you remember anything about Jarrett Stidham’s rookie season for the New England Patriots, it’s that he threw a pick-six in garbage time and forced New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to put Brady back in a game against the New York Jets. Stidham has thrown four passes, and completed two for 14 yards. You’re not learning much from that.
However, he did play a lot in the preseason last year. His 90 pass attempts were tied for fourth in the NFL, and he was second in passing yards. It’s not a lot, but it’s still worth a closer look to get a better idea of who is replacing the great Brady.
What does the tape say about Jarrett Stidham?
Like most rookies, Stidham had his ups and downs appearing in all four Patriots preseason games.
On the bright side, he was productive. He seemed most comfortable throwing to the middle of the field. He didn’t display a cannon of an arm, but it’s easily good enough to be an effective quarterback. He threw some accurate deep passes that were dropped, especially in the first game against the Detroit Lions.
His best throw of the entire preseason might have been a back-shoulder beauty in the Patriots’ second game. He anticipates well and throws it with good accuracy. It gave the Patriots the lead in the final minutes, which might not matter too much in the preseason but is nice to see regardless.
He had a similar touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas in the fourth preseason game.
If Stidham had any big issue it was sometimes holding the ball a little too long. A successful quarterback needs to quickly eliminate what has been taken away and move to the next read, and Stidham was a tick slow with that at times. Backed up against the Titans, Stidham held the ball and it caused a Patriots player to hold in the end zone. The penalty gave Tennessee a safety. But being a touch slow to process isn’t uncommon for a rookie. Stidham generally seemed to find the right read, it just needs to come a little faster.
Stidham also was mostly accurate but didn’t have pinpoint accuracy; his passes would reach the target but were off just enough to slow the receiver down and prevent more yards after the catch. His accuracy was far from a problem, but it needs some fine-tuning. In the Patriots’ timing offense, both issues will probably be emphasized when the team practices again.
Then there was the pick-six. In Week 3, the Patriots were up 30-7 and gave Stidham some snaps. On one play he looked to running back Brandon Bolden and threw it wildly, well over Bolden and to Jets safety Jamal Adams. Adams scored and Belichick, perhaps to send a message, yanked Stidham and put Brady back in. It was simply a bad throw, presumably one that had to do a bit with jitters. He’s going to have a lot more pressure on him this season than a few snaps during a 30-7 game, however.
One other plus with Stidham is his athletic ability. Brady is great at pocket movement, but Stidham can scramble and provide positive yardage with his legs. For example, on a key third down late against the Titans, Stidham scrambled to his left and gained enough yardage for a key first down to seal the win. He’ll do that more often than Brady. Stidham had 88 rushing yards on 17 attempts in the preseason, and seems like the type of player who could be in the 300-400-yard range for a season. Brady had 504 yards in 11 seasons after his ACL surgery.
What do the stats say about Stidham?
The surface stats for Stidham in the preseason were pretty good. He was 61-of-90 (67.8 percent) for 731 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His 102.6 passer rating was very good. It’s always hard to judge a player playing with and against second- and third-stringers, but it was positive.
Pro Football Focus’ advanced stats were favorable too. His passing grade was 28th among the 80 passers with at least 25 dropbacks. He was accurate, placing fifth in PFF’s adjusted completion percentage, which eliminates plays like drops and throwaways. Stidham’s receivers dropped eight passes, second most in the NFL last preseason.
Stidham wasn’t afraid to throw deep. He threw deep on 12.2 percent of his passes, according to PFF, right in the middle of the NFL quarterbacks. And he was accurate on those plays; of the 73 quarterbacks to try at least three deep passes last season, Stidham’s adjusted completion percentage ranked 10th.
Stidham will have to do better to avoid pressure and be better when he faces it. His 42.2 passer rating under pressure was 52nd among 80 qualified quarterbacks. And he was tied for 68th with an average of 2.77 seconds in the pocket, according to PFF, indicating he was holding the ball too long. Some of that can be cleaned up with experience.
What did coaches say about Stidham?
The reports on Stidham were mostly positive. His work ethic was a plus, and while he made normal rookie mistakes, he didn’t let it get him down.
“He’s a good kid,’’ Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, via Boston.com. “He loves football. He’s a hard worker. He comes in every day, he makes mistakes every day, like they all do as rookies, and he gets better. He takes coaching, he listens well, and he can improve from one day to the next if he takes the things that we’re talking about in the meeting room and apply them on the field.’’
Stidham hasn’t officially won the job. Brian Hoyer, who has a lot more experience, could end up with it. But Stidham is the presumed starter and replacement for Brady.
What do the Patriots have? A quarterback who showed enough skills to serve as a reminder that he was once considered a top college prospect. He did enough with his ability to find the right receiver and deliver the ball for the Patriots to make Stidham their No. 1 backup last season. Stidham has the skill set to be a nice surprise this season.
He’ll be watched closely. Stidham might be a mystery to NFL fans now, but he’s about to be under an intense microscope.
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