New England Patriots fans need to be realistic heading into the 2020 season. Head coach Bill Belichick is arguably the greatest ever, but every team associated with him and what has become the greatest football franchise in the league isn’t going to simply show up and win 10 games automatically.
As important as Belichick is to success, play at QB will determine a lot of the Patriots’ success in 2020. The starting QB job seems to be Jarrett Stidham’s to lose, which is un-Patriot-like. The team’s decision to hold off on signing or drafting anyone seemingly equipped to press the second-year pro for the job makes it Stidham’s almost by default.
Because we have to assume Stidham will be the man under center when Week 1 rolls around, we have no other choice to but to evaluate him as a starting QB in a competitive league, and in a division that suddenly has a lot more parity. According to Patriots analyst Evan Lazar, Stidham has some obvious holes to fill. It’s safe to say, if these issues remain in Stidham’s first full year as QB, the 2020 season could be a rough one for him and the Patriots.
Lazar calls the odds of Stidham becoming a successful starter in the league “long.” He does acknowledge that the offense he ran in college at Auburn wasn’t a good fit for him, but Lazar’s points out a few troubling tendencies that aren’t exactly scheme-specific.
Stidham’s Poor Ball Placement
The passing windows in the NFL are smaller than they are in college, and those windows close much quicker because of the speed of the players on defense. If you look at some of the poor throws Stidham had in college, it’s enough to at least make you a little worried about his precision passing in the NFL. You can see some of these issues for yourself in this breakdown from JT O’Sullivan in an episode of The QB School that focuses on Stidham:
On the bright side, this is something that could be associated with a player trying too hard to make a big play, especially if he feels he has inferior talent on offense–which was likely the case in 2018 at Auburn. It’s also an issue that could be improved with better passing mechanics.
Stidham’s Throwing Motion
There is a bit of a windup in his throws, and as Lazar points out, you can see it more clearly on deep passes that Stidham feels he has to put a little extra zip on to make it to the target.
In college, QBs can often get by with this extra motion to deliver a throw. In the NFL where elite pass rushers are getting from point A to B with insane quickness and taught to target the extended arm of a QB, the extra half-second can be the difference between a completed pass and a strip-sack, fumble, recovery, and touchdown.
According to metrics from Pro Football Focus, Stidham’s release was 2.77 seconds. That might sound like a short time, but it’s well below the ideal spot.
Stidham Moves Through Progressions Slowly
Holding the ball too long is usually an indication that a QB isn’t cycling through the different options he has to throw the ball as quickly as he needs to be successful. He’s spending more than three seconds in the pocket, which is too long on average with pass rushers bearing down on him and second and third-level defenders diagnosing the receivers’ routes.
This could be an issue that is cleaned up with coaching, repetition and what we assume will be intense film study for the next several months. Quite honestly, some QBs never get a handle on this and the deficiency sets their ceiling. Will Stidham be one of those guys? We probably won’t know the answer to that completely in 2020, but if he doesn’t at least show some signs, chances are the Patriots will not hesitate to look for an upgrade next offseason.
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