FOXBOROUGH — It wasn’t the first move they made on Day 3, but the one with the greatest longterm upside: The Patriots drafted former Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham with the No. 133 overall pick, their second selection in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday afternoon.
Stidham, 22, began his college career at Baylor but transferred to Auburn in 2016 in the wake of Art Briles’s firing. At Auburn, he posted his best season as a junior in 2017, when he completed 66.5 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions, earning second-team All-SEC honors along the way.
He was predicted to be a top draft pick, but regressed as a senior in 2018. Auburn went 8-5 (3-5 in the SEC) with Stidham playing behind a leaky offensive line and in a system that didn’t seem to fit his skillset. One thing he talked with Patriots coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels about was knowing that he’d chosen to run and leave the pocket at times when he shouldn’t have in 2018.
“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 via conference call Saturday. “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.”
Stidham said he felt like the Auburn offense didn’t find its identity until their bowl game against Purdue. That may have been too little, too late for his college career, but it’s probably the reason the Patriots were able to get a player with high upside in the fourth round.
Stidham has great raw skills, with an accurate arm and good touch on his throws. He’s viewed as a player who could use time to develop, which he’ll get behind Tom Brady in New England. He’ll compete with Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling for a backup role.
Stidham has traits the Patriots like. He’s accurate and protects the ball, with a 36-to-11 TD-INT ratio his last two seasons at Auburn, and was a team captain. It was evident from Stidham’s conference call that he has leadership qualities — confidence and an ability to connect with people. He uses a lot of first names.
Stidham took a top-30 visit to New England. He had lunch with Etling, and talked with McDaniels and Belichick. Stidham said he did a lot of board work with the Patriots and that they tested his ability to retain information, teaching him plays early in the morning and asking him to regurgitate them later in the afternoon.
“They really like to find out how smart you are, and they like to really challenge you in that way. That was something that not a lot of teams had done with me prior to the Patriot visit,” Stidham said.