In the days following last week’s draft, there were two questions I got asked more than any others.
“What did you think?”
“What about the quarterback they took?”
The answer to the first was easy. Liked it. Every pick made sense and none of the players were panned by people who know these kids better than me.
The second? Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham throws a beautiful ball but, in the pocket it didn’t take much for him to sense danger and head for the exit.
That may have been a learned response. In his second start for Auburn in the Fall of 2017, Stidham was sacked 11 times by a Clemson defensive line that featured Clelin Ferrell (fourth overall pick to Oakland last week), Christian Wilkins (13th overall to Miami), Dexter Lawrence (17th overall to the Giants). He was sacked 35 times in 13 games for the Tigers that year and the following August, he said, “I learned a lot from the Clemson game. I can promise you I will never get sacked 11 times again."
And he didn’t. He was sacked 23 times in 2018. But the player who began his career in the Big 12 and ended it in the SEC had put plenty of “I’m outta here!” moments on film.
I got a great description of Stidham’s tendency to bolt this week when speaking to draft expert Dane Brugler from The Athletic.
“Inconsistent reaction to pressure,” Brugler said when describing Stidham’s pocket presence.
Brugler also noted that the other strike against Stidham is that he’s a heartbeat slow to process.
“The slow trigger and inconsistent reaction to pressure,” Brugler said. “It’s not like those two things are easily fixable.”
Maybe not. Breaking habits takes time. But Stidham is an incoming freshman in the MIT of offensive football and time is what he’ll be afforded. And he at least sounds like he knows what he doesn’t know.
Asked about being around and learning from Tom Brady, Stidham said, “You can’t play for 20 years and not have so much knowledge of the game, so just being able to sit there and soak up everything that he’s gone through and pick his brain here and there about different things. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn under him and Brian Hoyer. Obviously Brian’s been around the league for a really long time and has a ton of experience. To be in the same room with those guys and to learn from them, it’s going to be great and I’m really looking forward to it.”
You can watch throw after throw from Stidham on highlights and quickly conclude that he’s got every single thing a quarterback physically needs to succeed.
But there was unanimity in the league and among experts that he is a project and a projection.
“I had Stidham as the top guy in that group (of developmental prospects),” said Brugler. “He was stuck in that Auburn offense where everything is so elementary. He wasn’t able to grow and develop. I think he’s going to get a lot better out of that system. That offense and what they asked him to do really restricted his abilities. From a trait standpoint, he has the athleticism, he has the arm, he needs to quicken that trigger. It’s great that he has the mobility, it’s great that he has the arm but if you don’t’ have the quick trigger and you don’t see things, it’s all moot.
“But if he’s able to show strides and improve in those two areas,” concluded Brugler, “we might be talking about the Patriots flipping him for a second-round pick in a few years.”
While that’s what the Patriots did with Jimmy Garoppollo, the time wasn’t right for the Patriots to move on from Brady or for Brady to move on from quarterbacking. By the time Stidham’s rookie deal is up it will be the offseason heading into 2023. Brady will be 45 and turning 46. His self-proclaimed expiration date (always an elusive target) will have passed.
In other words, based on timing, no quarterback has ever had a better chance to succeed Tom Brady than Jarrett Stidham. We will see how well he reacts to that particular pressure.
KITCHENS IS SAYING RIGHT THINGS IN CLEVELAND
God bless Freddie Kitchens. The first-year Browns coach is like a modern-day Jed Clampett, just a positional coach minding his own business for 13 NFL seasons with three teams and now he’s in charge of a roster with huge talent and huge personalities in a success-starved football town.
Odds are high he’s going to stub his toe. A lot. And they are even higher that the excessively-hyped Browns will inevitably fall short of 2019 expectations because that’s the way these things go annually. But Kitchens is at least trying to put a governor on the out-of-control gum-flapping going on.
Take, for example, Kitchens’ reaction to second-round pick Greedy Williams’ saying, “I know one thing: that the Browns are going to the Super Bowl this year. That’s a fact.”
That’s adorable. But Williams is playing with adults now and that kind of proclamation only further draws attention to the attention a team that hasn’t won anything is garnering.
Kitchens told Williams to tone it down. He also this week redirected defensive end Myles Garrett after Garrett complained that Gregg Williams, the interim head coach last year, only let him use Garrett use two pass rush moves.
Kitchens defended Williams then added, “We were 7-8-1 so (negativity) may be justified, but moving forward, we are not worried one bit about last year on any area of last year …. Last year is last year. No two teams are the same. I have said that numerous times. You are not going to pick up where you left off. We are not interested in revisiting last year at all. We were 7-8-1. We didn’t do [anything] last year. We didn’t win anything. We were third in the division. I don’t know where all of this is coming from. Just because the Super Bowl is our goal does not mean that is where we are right now. We are a team just like the other 31 teams, and we are focused on training camp, OTAs, minicamp and getting better when those guys are back in the building.”
It’s understandable that we tub-thumpers in the media create hype and excitement with predictions and power rankings. But teams embracing or feeding expectations when there are so many things that can derail them is absurd.
Last year’s anointed team was the Niners. They reveled in the adoration. They went 4-12 and started 1-2 under franchise messiah Jimmy G. before he blew his ACL. Now, they are trying to beat back chatter about tension fraying relationships and dealing with a “win now” vibe.
This year it will be the aforementioned Browns and the Colts who couldn’t be more self-impressed with the job they’ve done.
Kitchens’ instincts are right. Keep pointing out that – despite what it looks like on paper – the potential for plans to go up in smoke is ever-present.
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