2019 NFL Draft: Can Jarrett Stidham live up to the hype?

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25: Jarrett Stidham #8 of the Auburn Tigers rushes the ball during the second quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25: Jarrett Stidham #8 of the Auburn Tigers rushes the ball during the second quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham could be a first-round draft pick. Can he live up to the hype and solidify his place in the 2019 NFL Draft?

The Auburn Tigers reached the National Championship Game during Gus Malzahn’s first year as head coach. Over the course of the next three seasons, however, Auburn failed to win more than eight games overall or five games in SEC play.

2017 marked the season during which the Tigers would be revitalized, however, and the arrival of Jarrett Stidham was one of the primary reasons why.

Auburn finished the 2017 season with a 10-4 record, including a 7-1 mark against SEC opponents. It lost its final two games, but secured wins over both of the teams that appeared in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game: The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs.

It was Stidham who proved to be the difference, as he added new elements to an offense in need of reliability and explosiveness under center.

Stidham began his career with the Baylor Bears, but transferred to escape the sea of corruption at the university. After spending a semester at McLennan Community College, he announced that he would be transferring to Auburn.

It didn’t take long for Stidham to bring the excitement to campus, as he quickly emerged as, arguably, the program’s best quarterback since Cam Newton.

Stidham finished the 2017 campaign with 3,158 passing yards and 18 touchdowns to just six interceptions. A clean pocket wasn’t a luxury that was often afforded to him, but he took care of the ball and completed 66.5 percent of his passes.

Stidham also ran for 153 yards and four touchdowns, including the 51 yards and one score he picked up in the win over Alabama.

There were disappointing performances along the way, including virtual no-shows against Clemson and LSU. He redeemed himself against Alabama and Georgia, however, and led Auburn back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2013.

More importantly: Stidham threw one of the best deep balls in the country—and he did so on a team that’s limited to having specialists at wide receiver.

Every one of Stidham’s marks on deep passes were at least 9.2 passer rating points above the NCAA average. He threw nine touchdowns to just two interceptions in those scenarios, which is a clear sign of his efficiency.

That’s especially impressive considering Stidham’s top wide receiver, Ryan Davis, averaged a mere 9.7 yards per reception in 2017—up considerably from his mark of 7.8 per in 2016.

Darius Slayton and Will Hastings produced yards per reception averages over 20, and Nate Craig-Myers checked in at 17.8. All three failed to reach the 30-reception plateau, however, which is another credit to Stidham: Playing to his wide receiver’s strengths.

One of the primary reasons Stidham was so effective on deep throws was his uncanny ability to get the ball out quickly and find the open man.

Ranking second in the country in completion percentage on throws within 2.5 seconds is a feather in his cap.

Stidham has admittedly struggled under pressure, as he took 35 sacks during the 2017 campaign. That was due in at least some part to his tendency to hold the ball too long, which looks especially bad when one considers how efficient he is when getting the ball out quickly.

A healthy portion of that can be accredited to the offensive line, but Stidham still needs to make better decisions in the pocket during the 2018 season.

In saying that, Stidham is a 6’3″ quarterback with a big arm and the potential to be one of the most accurate passers in the country. He’s athletic enough to make a defense pay when they give him running lanes, and skilled enough to work the full route tree.

That enabled Stidham to rank second in the SEC in passing yards in just his first career season in the juggernaut of a conference.

The question is: Will Stidham work to address his flaws and thus make the leap to the next tier of the quarterbacks who are eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft?

Must Read: Drew Lock is the quarterback to watch in the 2019 NFL Draft

If he builds upon his first season with the Auburn Tigers, Jarrett Stidham could join Drew Lock as a candidate to be the first quarterback off the board.