There’s one person on the planet who was undefeated as a starting quarterback in college, won the Heisman Trophy, led his team to the National Championship, was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, led his team to the Super Bowl and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
And that player came from a college program that can’t develop a quarterback.
That’s what we’re supposed to believe after watching one NFL analyst after another point out the ineptitude of Gus Malzahn’s offense at Auburn. Never mind that Cam Newton is in a class by himself in terms of combined success at the college and professional levels.
Here’s a sampling of what folks in the NFL think of Malzahn’s offense and the way Jarrett Stidham was prepared — or not prepared for — pro football during his two years in the program. It’s not pretty.
Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms on the NFL Network says Stidham ran an “elementary-school offense” at Auburn.
Dan Brugler of The Athletic wrote about Stidham: “He appeared to hit his ceiling in Auburn’s elementary-level offense, which stressed tempo and quick reads over breaking down coverages and going through whole-field progressions. Overall, Stidham was clearly restricted in the Auburn offense and has the physical traits for the next level, but his slow trigger and inconsistent reaction to pressure are two concerning questions for his long-term future — one of the few legitimate developmental passers in this Draft class.”
Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, who worked for the 49ers, Browns, Eagles, Raiders and Patriots, went on his podcast “The GM Shuffle” to blast Malzahn and Stidham.
“Jarrett Stidham, the kid from Auburn. Here’s this kid, he was a five-star, four-star kid at Baylor with Art Briles, OK? They have the absolute fiasco that happens there and then he decides to leave Baylor and goes to Auburn. Really if the kid was smart, he would have stayed at Baylor with Matt Rhule. Because if he plays with Matt Rhule at Baylor, he’s probably going to throw. He probably would have been a first- or-second-round pick. He’s easily better than Daniel Jones if he plays in an offense that would have highlighted what he can do. That offense at Auburn, I’m not sure what the hell it is. They run power, they run unbalanced. But anyway, that offense seriously might be one of the worst offenses in football, so you can’t evaluate a quarterback in it. Or they can’t train a quarterback, that’s the other thing. He (Malzahn) can’t train them.”
Stidham was drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots, so it’s not like he has no chance to succeed in the NFL. That’s two rounds higher than the man he will be job-shadowing, Tom Brady.
It’s true that if Stidham makes it he will be only the second Auburn quarterback active in the NFL. Of course, another way to view that is to exclaim that Auburn would have two quarterbacks in the NFL if Stidham makes it with the Patriots. That feat is more rare than many people want to acknowledge.
Only the Cal Bears and Oklahoma Sooners have produced more than one projected NFL starter to open next season, and that’s assuming that unproven rookie Kyler Murray is gifted the starting job in Arizona.
That means that Auburn is tied for third with 29 other schools in terms of producing starting NFL quarterbacks. That places the Tigers ahead of Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee and everyone else in the SEC except for Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Georgia.
In fact, there are more starting quarterbacks from non-Power 5 schools than any of the major conferences. There are seven projected starting quarterbacks from “unknown” schools compared to six each from the PAC-12 and ACC, five from the Big Ten, four from the SEC and four from the Big 12.
In other words, it’s really hard to predict which quarterbacks will progress to be stars in college or move on to be starters in the NFL.
Malzahn’s offense at Auburn doesn’t do a good job of showcasing the skills a quarterback will need when he gets his shot at professional football. But that was true when Newton was on his way to becoming a star. It’s also true Ryan Fitzpatrick faced Ivy League competition at Harvard every week and Joe Flacco played in front of an at-capacity home crowd of 22,000 at Delaware Stadium.
Quarterbacks come from all types of programs and offenses. It’s the job of the pro scouts to decipher how each player will translate to the NFL. It’s certainly not the top priority of Malzahn or any other college coach to do that.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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