New England Patriots: Jarrett Stidham capable of leading a playoff run

FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Jarrett Stidham #4 of the New England Patriots throws the football in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Jarrett Stidham #4 of the New England Patriots throws the football in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

With the support of a strong rushing attack and a powerhouse defense, Jarrett Stidham is poised to keep New England atop the AFC East moving forward.

In terms of offseason transactions, allowing the greatest quarterback in NFL history to walk out the door in free agency is generally not a productive move for contending teams.

Following Tom Brady’s departure, fans and experts were all certain the New England Patriots would address the quarterback position through the draft — likely with one of their top picks.

Per usual, however, Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office had other plans.

Unless their eight-time Super Bowl champion head coach is willing to abandon his entire team-building philosophy and tank in hopes of landing a blue-chip quarterback from the 2021 NFL Draft class, Jarrett Stidham will be the starter in Foxborough for years to come.

For those unfamiliar with his background and the progression of his college football career, Stidham saw his first game action as a true freshman at Baylor. Heavily recruited as a dual-threat quarterback out of high school, Stidham played well in his time as a starter before an ankle injury cut his freshman year short.

Following the school’s 2016 sexual abuse scandal — and the subsequent firing of most of the coaching staff — Stidham left Baylor for McLennan Community College. There, he didn’t play a down of football and managed to retain a year of eligibility.

He transferred to Auburn the following year, whose run-heavy scheme failed to capitalize on Stidham’s arm talent the way Baylor’s spread offense appeared to before his departure.

Despite suboptimal conditions for an NFL showcase, Stidham led Auburn to wins over top-ranked Alabama and Georgia, capturing an SEC West Division Championship along the way. Following an 8-5 season in 2018, Stidham forewent his final year of eligibility and entered the 2019 NFL Draft, where the New England Patriots selected him with the 31st pick of the fourth round.

The staples of Guz Malzahn’s offense at Auburn — bubble screens, roll-outs, RPOs, and go-routes — often put Stidham’s remarkable physical tools on display.

Seldom asked to get through more than one or two reads on a given play, however, Stidham was rarely able to attack the middle of the field with any sort of complexity.

Working with a lackluster receiving corps — only mildly-redeemed by eventual rookie standout Darius Slayton — the restraint on Stidham’s growth was compounded by an inability to take advantage of one-on-ones outside the hash marks.

In his two years at Auburn, a one-dimensional offense and substandard band of pass-catchers left Stidham in a situation that would eventually have scouts questioning his accuracy and mental acuity.

But in his preseason action with the Patriots, and given his first chance to operate from the pocket as a pro-style quarterback, Stidham’s body language indicated a natural feel for the position which was seldom evident in college.

Stidham looked like a big, athletic quarterback with a strong arm, fluid release, and no discernible weaknesses. In a limited sample size against Detroit, Tennessee, Carolina, and New York, the young passer was precise with his ball placement and displayed advanced poise and maturity, often showing flashes of next-level pocket presence and field awareness.

We knew the second-year man could spin it … but seeing him operate like a veteran quarterback from the pocket last preseason was very intriguing.

The Patriots currently lack the requisite firepower on the outside to catalyze the growth of a young quarterback, but a formidable offensive line and strong running game should ease the burden on Stidham.

Even if the Patriots are unable to repeat as a top-10 scoring offense for the first time in over 15 years, one can expect the team’s defense to provide some margin for error. Returning the entirety of the league’s best secondary for the last two years, New England’s defense is poised to repeat as the top-ranked unit in the league.

The thought of the Patriots having another young and competent passer capable of leading a team into the playoffs for years to come seems preposterous following Tom Brady’s 20 years of dominance.

While one shouldn’t expect perennial final-four appearances from here on out, New England is still in a position to seriously contend this season.

In fact, so is Brady in Tampa Bay.

It would come as absolutely no surprise to see both teams win their respective divisions and even make it farther in the playoffs than last year’s Patriots.

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With a receiving corps spearheaded by N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and a soon-to-be 34-year-old Julian Edelman, don’t expect Jarrett Stidham to recreate the 2007 Patriots.

One should, however, be excited about the young quarterback’s potential on such a great team.