Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots are a “perfect fit.”
That’s how Gus Malzahn, Stidham’s coach at Auburn, described the pairing after learning that New England had plucked him in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
Stidham has the inside track on succeeding Tom Brady as the Patriots starting quarterback after Brady announced Tuesday morning that his “football journey will take place elsewhere” after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl championships in New England.
“He was excited about it,’’ Malzahn said last fall, recalling his first conversation with Stidham after the draft. “I think if you would have let him pick what team drafted him, he’d probably have picked them. A chance to learn under one of the best to ever do it and I think the system fits him. He’s got a very high football IQ, so I think it’s really the perfect fit.’’
Replacing a legend is never an enviable task, but Stidham does have experience dealing with difficult situations. During his freshman season at Baylor in 2015, Stidham stepped in for injured starter Seth Russell and threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games.
His time in Waco, Texas, was brief, as he transferred to Auburn after a sexual abuse scandal rocked the Baylor athletic department. He sat out 2016 but excelled immediately in 2017, winning the starter’s job.
Malzahn said Stidham is adept at handling pressure when the lights come on. He pointed to Stidham leading the Tigers to an SEC West Division championship in his first year at Auburn as a prime example.
“He played his best football in 2017 against the best teams we played,’’ Malzahn said in the interview last fall. “We played two No. 1 teams that year back to back [Georgia and Alabama], beat them both, and he had a whole lot to do with that.
"So big-time pressure I don’t think affects him like it does some people.’’
Malzahn also believes Stidham has the leadership skills to command an NFL huddle and the personality to deal with all the outside distractions that come with being a go-to guy.
“It’s just who he is — he’s a leader — that’s really what did it,’’ said Malzahn, who added that Stidham is the type of guy who has “never met a stranger” in his life. “He’s fun to be around. Gets to know everyone.
"He got to know everyone in our building, it wasn’t just the coaches. The janitors, assistants, the people that work the front desk — he’s just that type of person.’’
Stidham threw just four passes during his rookie season in New England (most notably a pick-6 against the Jets), spending most of the time the way most of Brady’s understudies did: watching and learning.
“Jarrett is a smart kid,’’ Bill Belichick said last October. “He picks things up very quickly, has a good grasp of the offense given where he is in his career. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him.
"In practice, he does a good job. He gets a lot of passes on our defense and when he has the opportunity to get the offensive snaps, he’s prepared and does a good job of those.’’
In addition to Stidham, the Patriots have Cody Kessler on the roster at quarterback. The four-year veteran didn’t dress for any games last year, but has 17 NFL games — and 12 starts — under his belt during stops with the Browns (who selected him in the third round in 2016) and Jaguars.
Kessler, who went through detailed workouts with assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi on game days, impressed the staff and his teammates with his work ethic.
Belichick said in December that having Stidham and Kessler came in handy for those times when Brady wasn’t available to fully participate in practice.
“I mean, those guys are always ready to go, and it’s an opportunity for them,’’ he said then. “It’s hard to practice three quarterbacks, and there have been a couple examples where Tom hasn’t been able to do a lot this year.
“So that’s given Stid an opportunity to go with the first group, and run our plays and run our offense, and that’s been good for him. That’s given Cody an opportunity to run more of the scout-team plays because Jarrett’s not taking those.”
The Patriots could bolster their depth at quarterback by trading for someone such as Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, or Nick Foles. Free agent possibilities include Jameis Winston.
Additionally, they have a dozen selections in next month’s draft.