FOXBORO -- Patriots rookie minicamp begins on Friday. That means it'll be first-round pick N'Keal Harry's first opportunity to put what he's studied in the Patriots playbook to use. It also means fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham will have an opportunity to throw his first few passes as a professional quarterback.
Taken on Day 3 of the draft, Stidham isn't necessarily expected to succeed Tom Brady in the coming years. But the possibility can't be ruled out, either. According to Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, who spent seven years as a scout with the Patriots, Stidham has the potential to start.
"No question," Nagy told The Next Pats Podcast. "No question . . . Jarrett's got starter ability. No doubt in my mind. If they develop him right. Again, quarterback play is all about opportunity and situation. I think he's in a good spot to really maximize that. I think Jarrett could definitely be a starter in the NFL."
Nagy invited Stidham to Mobile, Alabama for the country's premier college all-star game, where Stidham earned Practice Player of the Week honors. But Nagy has been familiar with Stidham's game since he worked as a scout with the Seahawks. Nagy made his way to Auburn to watch a Tigers practice back in 2017 and caught a glimpse of Stidham throwing picture-perfect passes all over the field.
Stidham wasn't a complete unknown at that point. He'd been one of the top high school recruits in the country. He'd put up impressive numbers in his short time as Baylor's signal-caller but left the program following coach Art Briles' dismissal. In his year away from the college game, Stidham practiced with a high school team to stay sharp before transferring to Auburn.
"I'd never seen him before," Nagy said. "He was just lighting it up that day in practice. Deep, intermediate, easy short stuff. I had to grab a couple coaches on the staff and ask them: 'Is this this kid or is this an aberration?' They're like, 'No, Jim. This is him every day.' I'm like, 'OK, wow.' "
Nagy explained that the first thing that jumped out to him about Stidham is the kind of thing you don't have to be a veteran scout to see.
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"I thought he was the most mechanically sound quarterback in the draft," Nagy said. "He throws an absolutely beautiful football. When the people in New England can go to training camp this year and see this kid throw the ball, it comes off his hand so clean and it's such a pretty ball. He's fun to watch throw."
Aesthetically pleasing as his spirals may be for fans, there's a reason scouts salivate when they see type of ability. It goes beyond looks.
"It's just natural. He's just a natural thrower," Nagy went on. "Some of these guys have to get drilled and go to camps. I've made the comment a couple times over the years down here in Alabama about him, 'Jarrett came out of the womb throwing a football.' It's so natural to him. It doesn't matter if his feet aren't right, if he's off-balance, if he's gotta adjust his arm angle. The ball just comes off his hand so clean. That's why it's so important . . .
"You see him make a lot of throws under duress. You see him make a lot of tight window throws. There were a couple quarterbacks in this draft that really sat back in a clean pocket and played pitch-and-catch all the time. That's not the NFL. When I evaluate quarterbacks I want to see people in their face, throwing into tight windows.
"I go back to seeing Jarrett play Week 1 against Washington this year and you can go back to my Twitter feed from that day back in September. Some of his red-zone throws in that game were incredible. If you want to see a guy's true accuracy. Go do a cut-up of all the red-zone stuff, his ball placement in the red zone. Not even on that day but over the course of the year, he's one of the best in the class and maybe the best in this year's class. He brings a lot to the table. He really does."
For a variety of reasons, Stidham didn't have the season many expected. But Nagy remembered watching him beat Georgia and Alabama as a junior. He understood that Stidham's offensive line took a step back in 2018. He knew Stidham lost one of the best runners in the country -- and one of the best pass-protectors at that position -- in Lions back Kerryon Johnson. And Nagy saw that the Auburn offense wasn't tailored to Stidham's game.
"He shouldered way too much of the blame for [Auburn's season]," Nagy said. "This kid's a mentally tough guy. Seeing him down here at the Senior Bowl, he's got a ton of presence about him. He comes across as an adult when you spend time with him. And he's ready to be a pro. I spent time around a lot of the quarterbacks in this class and I can't say the same thing."
Just look at what Stidham did in his final collegiate performance -- a blowout win over Purdue -- to get better idea of what he's capable of, Nagy explained.
"They had a couple receivers that run 4.3 and they never pushed the ball deep," he said. "They get to the bowl game and [head coach] Gus Malzahn takes over the play-calling duties and Jarrett puts up 56 points on [Purdue], and in one half he sets the all-time bowl record. They score 56 points in a half. I've had people kind of scoff at it and say, 'Well, that was Purdue.' My counterpoint is, 'That's the same Purdue team that beat Dwayne Haskins and made Dwayne Haskins look like he wasn't a draftable player . . .
"It's nice that [Stidham] won't have to play right away. I think any of these guys ideally shouldn't have to play right away. I think Jarrett has as much upside as anyone in this year's draft and playing behind Tom is a perfect situation."
Getting Stidham where the Patriots did, Nagy argued, made that fourth-round choice one of his favorite's from this year's draft class.
"Jarrett, I thought that was one of the best picks of the weekend from a value perspective," Nagy said. "I really think the narrative that was set through the media that the best four quarterbacks in the draft were [Kyler] Murray, Haskins, [Drew] Lock and [Daniel] Jones -- those were the clear-cut top-four, I kind of disagree with that. I think the second tier of Stidham and Will Grier and [Ryan] Finley from NC State and even Clayton Thorson from Northwestern, I felt like that second group of four was really darn close to that first group of four. That second group checked as many or more boxes than the guys in the first group. So to get Jarrett all the way down in the fourth round to me was incredible."
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