As we’ve reached Draft Day, it’s time to take a look at maybe the best possibility for Auburn to get a first-round pick. Now, he’s not projected there, but somebody could decide they need a quarterback, and the guy with all the arm talent in the world may just fall into someone’s lap.
Jarrett Stidham had a decidedly odd time on the Plains. He came in as the starter in 2017 after transferring from Baylor, where he had signed as the top dual-threat quarterback out of high school. Stidham’s first season in Waco was up and down, playing a backup role to Seth Russell. Stidham got his chance after Russell went down with an injury, but then Stidham himself was hurt late in the season as well after a pretty solid stretch.
After the fallout of the whole Baylor scandal, Stidham left town and headed to Auburn to play for Gus Malzahn. For the first time since Cam Newton, the Tigers had a bonafide NFL arm at quarterback. There wasn’t a throw that Stidham couldn’t make, and he showed that pretty early on. The deep ball was back in town, and the Tigers started rolling up teams in the SEC on the back of a passing game they hadn’t seen in quite some time.
Behind that offensive potency, Auburn was rolling teams during the 2017 season. After an early loss to eventual Playoff participant Clemson (where Stidham struggled and got sacked 11 times), and a sleepwalking affair in a win over Mercer, Auburn turned it on. The Tigers posted won 8 of their next 9 games, with the only loss coming in Baton Rouge. Overall, Auburn scored 51, 49, 44, 23, 52, 42, 40, 42, and 26 points in those games, averaging 41 points per game against a tough SEC slate. That includes wins over #1 Georgia and #1 Alabama in back-to-back conference games, where Stidham was responsible for 5 touchdowns. He gave Auburn a dynamic that the rest of the league hadn’t seen before.
Now, there were some issues. If you look back at the Clemson game and the LSU collapse, Stidham struggled with pressure. In both Death Valleys, the defensive fronts were able to get to him often, and he took 14 combined sacks in those losses. It rattled him. When things were going well, he was on fire. Almost unstoppable during that year. When he got a little fire in his face, it hurt. He wasn’t the same player, and he either took a loss or made a hurried throw.
It was the same story this past season. When he had time, he was great. In wins over Washington and Texas A&M, he had a fairly clean jersey and was able to locate his targets. However, the running game took a hit without Kerryon Johnson, and the protection took a hit without guys like Braden Smith and Austin Golson. Both of those areas resulted in tough offensive outings, and things even looked bleak in wins over Arkansas and Southern Miss early in the season while the team worked out the kinks. Much of the effectiveness was gone, but that wasn’t exactly Stidham’s fault. He was just a guy trying to do the same things with a different supporting cast, and it fell a little flat.
In his best season, he became just the second Auburn quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards, and he tossed 36 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions in his time on the Plains. He’s got all the physical talent in the world, he just needs to get a little bit better in the head game before he makes a start for a pro team.
What he’ll be drafted on will be his arm strength, mobility, and accuracy throwing from both the pocket and on the run. He’s got great mechanics and he can make the throws to pretty much any spot on the field. What he’ll be criticized for will be his knack for getting rushed under pressure. As a dual-threat guy growing up, he was probably faster than everyone around him, but that’s not the case anymore. He’ll try to scramble to get some yards instead of sticking in the pocket to find the late open receiver. When those things happen, his mechanics suffer a little bit. Furthermore, he needs some help around him. Obviously that’s the case with pretty much anyone, but he’s a guy that’ll need the support of a solid run game to complement his aerial skills.
In the end, Jarrett Stidham is also going to be judged on the fact that he played for Gus Malzahn. Gus’ offense doesn’t lend itself to giving scouts comfort in Auburn players’ ability to learn a playbook since it’s fairly simple. Whether that’s a misnomer or a true criticism remain to be seen, as the only quarterback that’s been drafted from Gus’ offense was a top-overall pick and NFL MVP.
Stidham can find a home in the NFL, but he’ll need to have a veteran guy to teach him some things, and he’ll need a good offensive coach to put him in the right situation for him to succeed. We’ll see who makes that decision and brings him on board.