FOXBORO -- Same offense. Same head coach. Same number of attempts. Yet Jarrett Stidham's performance from 2017 to 2018 was strikingly different. His completion percentage dropped from 66.5 to 60.7. His yards per attempt fell from 8.5 to 7.6. His rating dropped 15 points.
That statistical drop, accompanied by some head-scratchingly inconsistent play, was part of the reason that Stidham was taken in the fourth round and not one of the first two. But the newest member of the Patriots quarterback room had a relatively quick-and-easy explantation for his performance last season.
Part of it was a change in personnel. Part of it was a reluctance to cut the passing game loose.
"I think there’s different things that happen throughout the season, and I think myself, Coach [Gus] Malzahn, Coach [Chip] Lindsey, if we were all to kind of look back and go back and read through the season, I think we’d just open it up a lot more," Stidham said. "When you lose a guy like Kerryon Johnson and Braden Smith up front, some of those guys that have a lot of experience, you just have to find out your identity. And I think we found our identity during our bowl game against Purdue."
Stidham led the Tigers as they put up 56 first-half points in the Music City Bowl. He hit a running back out of the backfield on a little wheel route that went for a 66-yard score. He hit a big play down the middle of the field for a 74-yard touchdown that traveled 58 yards in the air. He also dropped a 34-yard touchdown into the hands of burner Darius Slayton.
That game was an outlier, though. Stidham acknowledged to the Patriots during his pre-draft top-30 visit with the team that he didn't help himself with his decision-making in the pocket at times.
"I told coach [Josh] McDaniels and coach [Bill] Belichick, there were definitely times last year where for whatever reason, I just decided to get out of the pocket when I shouldn’t have or just didn’t trust my eyes at a certain point or my feet," he said. "That’s something I’ve obviously been working on this spring up to the draft and it’s something I’m going to have to continue to work at in order to get better at the quarterback position. I’m really looking forward to doing that, and there’s no one better to learn from than coach McDaniels and coach Belichick and those guys in the quarterback room."
Between the changing personnel, the stubbornness with the scheme, and any residual effect those things had on Stidham's pocket presence, he became a Day 3 pick. Stidham's loss in terms of draft slot may be New England's gain, however, as a dice-roll at that position at that point in the draft is well worth it -- regardless of the age of the team's incumbent starting quarterback.
"It’s one of those things, but I wouldn’t trade my time at Auburn for anything," Stidham said. "I loved it there, and the great thing about Auburn is that it can really help prepare you for the next level. And sure enough, I’m lucky enough to sit here and be a Patriot and further my career a little bit."
For more on Stidham -- and how his performance during the pre-draft process may have helped him in the eyes of Patriots decision-makers -- click here.
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