As a Raiders fan (F**k the Tuck!), I derived much pleasure from watching the Titans pound the Patriots in the Wild Card game last season. Yes, I’m a hater, but my respect for the organization is robust. 11 straight playoff appearances and three Super Bowls during that span speak for themselves. Anyways, when Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa Bay in the offseason, I giggled like a school girl at first, but then my inner M. Bison surfaced. History has shown that all dynasties end at some point, and the evil empire of the Patriots was about to crumble as well. Hallelujah! Praise be <insert religious entity>. But then I did some digging and what I found was not so pleasant. The Patriots may in fact not be crumbling. It may be reloading for its next iteration, as Bill Belichick went to Jarrett Stidham and adorned the finger with a ring.
Stidham was a five-star recruit at Stephenville High School in Texas. He signed with Baylor and ended up starting three games as a freshman, after the starter suffered a season-ending injury. Unfortunately, Stidham chipped an ankle bone and was shut down for the rest of the season as well. Then, the sexual abuse scandal surfaced at Baylor, and Stidham announced that he would be transferring to Auburn University, where he had a successfull two-year career…..considering the circumstances.
The numbers look decent…
|YEAR||COMP||ATT||PCT||YDS||Y/A||TD||INT||RUSH YDS||RUSH TDS|
….but they could have been better if he was playing in a system that utilized his strengths.
“Stidham is playing in a phone booth between the hashes, and he has multiple play fakes to get through, and then he’s supposed to look up, go through progressions and find safeties – in the SEC, against those defensive linemen?….What did they expect from him?”
“He had first-round talent that was mucked up by a system that didn’t fit him…But we’re a tape-is-your-resume league. And that tape at Auburn had some brutal stretches. Enough to make a lot of personnel departments push him down – and in some cases, off – draft boards.”
(Courtesy of SI.com)
As a result, Stidham fell to the fourth round of the NFL Draft, where the Patriots scooped him up.
What did they see in him?
He has the size at 6′ 2″ 218 pounds. He also has decent speed, as he clocked a 4.81 40-yard dash. Finally, he has the mental acumen. Mark Schofield, a writer for multiple outlets including the RSP and someone I respect highly when it comes to quarterback evaluation, wrote a piece back in May on Stidham. He mentions the book that Bill Belichick’s father, Steve, wrote back in 1962, “Football Scouting Methods,” viewed by many as the “scouting bible.” In it, the number one attribute for quarterbacks listed is to make good decisions. From Schofield’s own tape analysis, he jotted down: “Anticipation. Progression reads. Good footwork and ability to influence defenders with his eyes. Processing speed.”
The lack of interceptions thrown during college are an indication of those traits, but what he did at the Senior Bowl accentuated them. He embraced the Kyle Shanahan offense run at the Senior Bowl and was eventually named the Offensive Practice Player of the Week by NFL scouts. Schofield had these notes during the practice week:
“His decision-making was sound throughout the week, he showed the ability to move defenders with his eyes (perhaps my favorite read and throw from any QB this week was a throw he had Wednesday when he moved the underneath linebacker in a Cover 1 scheme towards the tight end with his eyes, and then threw a slant right into the spot the LB vacated) and he made throws with good velocity and placement.”
(Courtesy of USAToday.com)
Once he arrived in the NFL, there was not much deviation from the above. In four preseason games, Stidham displayed all the attributes and ended going 61 for 90 (67.8%) with 731 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He also chipped in 88 yards on the ground. Yes, it was only preseason, but the defenses weren’t all of the vanilla variety, as he saw many pressure packages.
He operated well from both the shotgun and under center, was comfortable with his back to the defense in playaction, hung tough in the face of pressure, made all the throws, showed escapability and rushing prowess, and went through his reads quickly.
I wanted to post YouTube video clips and/or GIFs, but the NFL doesn’t allow access. Boo hoo. If you want to check out the highlights from the preseason action last season, click HERE.
Due to his impressive preseason performances, Stidham earned the backup job behind Tom Brady LAST season, over Brian Hoyer. You know, the same guy the Patriots signed this offseason, which caused some to think that Hoyer could be the starter for 2020. C’mon, man!
From all my digging into Stidham, the thing that got me most bullish on his prospects were the quotes from Devin McCourty:
“To me, the best thing for Stiddy was that he had to go against our defense every week. He didn’t have it easy. I love his poise. I would be faking a blitz sometimes and we’d make eye contact and he’s just start smiling and laughing.”
“To me, 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, and I think put more pressure on us.”
(Courtesy of NFL.com)
This was the same defense that was running roughshod over the league last year. I think it’s safe to assume that Belichick was impressed with how Stidham performed against his defense during practices, which gave him more confidence for the future of the quarterback position.
Now, this is a fantasy website, so what are his prospects from that perspective?
During Tom Brady’s first season as a starter, the Patriots played to their defense and asked Brady to be a game manager. He ended up attempting 413 passes and finished with 2843 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Not impressive at all, but he did finish as the #21 quarterback for fantasy. Many are thinking that the Patriots employ a similar strategy for 2020.
Not so fast my friends.
In 2008, Matt Cassell played most of the year after Brady suffered an injury in the first game. While Cassel had been with the team for three seasons, he had previously never started a game. In his first game, Cassell went 13 for 18 for 152 yards. As time went on, though, more was put onto his plate. In Weeks 10 and 11, Cassell went back-to-back 400+ yards with 3 TDs. He ended the year as the #8 QB for fantasy.
In 2016, when Brady was suspended four games due to Deflategate, Jimmy Garoppolo, who had been with the team two seasons but never started a game, directed the Patriots for the first two games before succumbing to an injury. He went 42 for 59 (71.19%) with 496 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s a tick under 30 attempts per game.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Patriots just ground-and-pound teams to death. Could they? Sure, it’s within the range of outcomes, especially since they are notorious for attacking opponent weaknesses. With that said, if they feel the best way to win is to pass, then they will go in that direction.
Last season, Brady was the 16th quarterback on a points-per-game basis (16.5). Gardner Minshew was at 16.4, which put him at 18th. I mention Minshew because he and Stidham are similar, in the sense that they do not throw many interceptions and could rush for around 350 yards. There’s a chance Stidham craps the bed, so the floor could be on the bench, but the likely scenario for a floor is in the 16.5 points-per-game range.
There’s upside, though.
Belichick and Josh McDaniels are masters at scheming offensive game plans. It’s within the range of outcomes that another 2008 Cassell season is manufactured.
According to FFPC ADP, Stidham is currently being drafted as the 194th player and 31st quarterback. That’s a juicy risk/reward proposition.
Belick went to Jarrett. So should you.