If you're like me, every time the ticker came up for the Patriots during the 2020 NFL Draft, you thought to yourself: "Well, this has to be a quarterback."
It never was.
With Tom Brady elsewhere and manning a different team, the Buccaneers, for the first time in a year that starts with two, the Patriots didn't go hunting a replacement, choosing instead to roll with the latest in a long line of developmental QB2s: Jarrett Stidham.
The Auburn product had hype following an explosive redshirt sophomore season in 2017 but that fell away as he crashed back down to earth in 2018. Stidham was accordingly selected on Day 3 of the 2019 draft; he went in the fourth round at No. 133 to New England.
Stidham was so talented in college that he got to play under Brady and learn under coach Bill Belichick, who took Brady himself on Day 3 and made him into the football icon he is today. Surely, Stidham has a shot to be successful — but it's slim.
Among quarterbacks drafted on Day 3 in this century, only 10 have started at least eight games in their second season. Most have followed the same path Stidham did and sat their first year. Dak Prescott is the only one of the 10 that started a majority of the games in his rookie year, which was a result of an injury to the Cowboys’ incumbent quarterback, Tony Romo. This isn't breaking news: Day 3 picks are not drafted to start in Year 1.
Even if we include Prescott in the sample for second-year starters of Day 3 passers, the numbers aren't great. The average completion percentage was around 58% with Brady (64% in 2001) and Marc Bulger (63% in 2003) pacing the pack. Only Bulger had over 7.2 yards per passing attempt, which was the league average for the 2019 season, and all but Trevor Siemian had an above-average interception percentage (2.3%) relative to the 2019 season.
Now, football has changed a fair bit since Brady and Bulger were slinging the pill, which only worsens our sample. If all players since 2010 were removed, it leaves Curtis Painter (who filled in for Peyton Manning following his neck surgery in 2011), Trevor Siemian in 2016, Brett Hundley (who filled in for Aaron Rodgers following his broken collarbone in 2017) and Prescott in 2017. Prescott had a handle on the job following Romo's 2016 injury, and Siemian won the starting job in a training camp battle with Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch.
Day 3 quarterbacks don't see starting reps in Year 2 unless someone gets hurt, and when they do, it typically doesn't look great. The best case for success in Year 2 is Prescott, who didn't have overwhelming numbers in the first place and had a year of starting experience under his belt.
Is there any reason, any evidence, to believe Stidham will be different? Unfortunately, there’s not. He has always been a practice quarterback who looks tremendous against air and oozes with arm talent and escapability. But Stidham struggles with inconsistent play when the bullets are live.
When Stidham declared in 2018, I had to say about his game from The Draft Network’s Contextualized Quarterbacking portfolio:
"I struggle to get excited about Stidham, who was objectively inaccurate in a scheme built on easy throws. While he has good distance to his arm, Stidham struggles to place the ball deep with any consistency, so this "strength" still exists in the hypothetical. Again, when he adds extra mustard on his tight-window throws, Stidham loses the ability to place the football and accordingly puts the ball at risk.
"Stidham brings some good mobility to the position, though he struggles with pocket feel, and has the arm talent worthy of drafting and developing as a Day 3 option. To expecting anything more out of Stidham than a potential backup role is to have admirably lofty expectations."
In the 2019 class, Stidham was graded as my the least-accurate thrower beyond the line of scrimmage with especially harrowing numbers as a deep-ball passer (.513 accuracy with .372 placement). He had the greatest target share of passing attempts behind the line of scrimmage, the worst accuracy numbers under pressure and the highest percentage of his offensive output come from yards after the catch. Auburn asked him to throw screens, and he did. Whenever he held the ball longer, bad things tended to happen.
The only tenable models for a non-Year 1 starter, Year 2 success story among Day 3 quarterbacks in this century are arguably Derek Anderson, Bulger and the very quarterback that Stidham now endeavors to replace: Brady. Stidham was nothing like Brady as a passer; he's risk-prone, poor in timing concepts, inaccurate and his best plays come as a result of his arm talent.
Stidham was multiple years away when he was coming out of Auburn, and now, over a year later, we'll get to see him start a majority of the season — at least that's the plan New England is selling us on. An entire year under Belichick and behind Brady is impossible to argue against in terms of positive developmental atmospheres, but history tells us we should keep our expectations low.
Almost everyone who blazed the trail he's now on ended up a career backup at best. Stidham’s career as the Patriots’ starter is far more likely to become the interlude between the first act of Brady and the second act of Trevor Lawrence; a nugget of trivia at the midpoint of the greatest baton handoff in football history.