It had been a long time since Auburn had a quarterback selected in the NFL draft.
Until New England took Jarrett Stidham on Saturday, the last one was Cam Newton, who went first overall to the Carolina Panthers eight years ago.
The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots selected Stidham with the 133rd overall pick in the fourth round.
"The Patriots just got the steal of the draft!" Auburn coach Gus Malzahn posted on Twitter. "Jarrett Stidham will be successful in the NFL for a long time."
If Stidham wasn't going to be an immediate starter in the NFL, which his drop to the latter part of the fourth round indicated, then he might not have fallen into a better landing spot than New England, where he will compete with veteran Brian Hoyer and 2018 draft pick Danny Etling (out of LSU) to back up 42-year-old future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
Getting drafted by longtime Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a ringing endorsement, too — Stidham joins the likes of Jimmy Garappolo, Jacoby Brissett and Matt Cassell, who each backed up Brady before going on to be starters elsewhere in the NFL.
"He had some struggles in 2018, particularly when he got pressured," ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said. "His efficiency severely dropped off. I don't think he had a whole lot of help as far as play design and weapons on the perimeter. ... But, he has got some tools, man, and he went to the perfect place. Who better to learn behind than Tom Brady? This is the best teaching organization in the NFL."
Stidham certainly looked the part in 2017, his first season with the team. He spent 2015 at Baylor before transferring.
He completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,158 yards, which made him the second 3,000-yard passer in program history and first since Dameyune Craig in 1997. The Tigers went 10-4, defeating Georgia and Alabama by double digits at home on their way to an SEC West crown.
When Stidham announced that he planned to return for his junior season, citing "unfinished business" as the reason, many thought a step forward statistically could potentially push him into the first-round discussion.
But his numbers regressed across the board in his second season running the Auburn offense. Stidham completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards, though he did throw the same amount of touchdowns (18) and fewer interceptions (five). Auburn went 8-5, losing to Georgia and Alabama by double digits along the way.
"I think, looking back on it, obviously there are a lot of things that I wish I had back," Stidham said at the Senior Bowl in January. "Whether it’s throws, decisions that should have or shouldn’t have been made — there’s a lot of things I wish I had back."
Those struggles cannot be pinned solely on Stidham, though — the offensive line got off to a slow start, the run game lacked consistency, and the offense never seemed to have much rhythm as Malzahn and then-offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey butted heads. The quarterback did his part to prove that during the pre-draft process.
"I feel like he’ll be one of the top quarterbacks taken in this draft when everything’s all said and done," Malzahn said last month. "I think they can see he can make all the throws, has a very high IQ, football IQ. I think he’s going to be an excellent pro."
He trained with former NFL journeyman quarterback Jordan Palmer and fellow 2019 draft prospects Drew Lock of Missouri and Tyree Jackson of Buffalo. He was named the Senior Bowl offensive practice player of the week at his position. Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote that Stidham was one of the most talked-about players by quarterback coaches at the NFL Combine. The former Tigers signal-caller completed 48 of 50 passes at his Pro Day in Auburn.
“He throws a beautiful ball,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said during an appearance on ESPN. “I’ve said it before, he looks like he came out of the womb throwing the football. Mechanically, he’s the best in this class. The ball just comes off his hand really clean. I don’t think he had the year he expected to have. I don’t think Auburn fans had the year they expected, but a lot of times as a quarterback, you have to look around what happens at the quarterback position."
The Patriots did, and they may have drafted a quarterback who could one day be in the mix to take over for Brady.
"They’re getting a very confident guy, a confident leader and a winner," Stidham said last month, speaking about whichever NFL team drafted him. "I feel like my confidence is right where it needs to be. I’ve come into a situation like Auburn and led a team to a 10-win season, SEC championship appearance. I’ve been pretty successful in my career so far, and I’m hoping to continue to do that for as long as I can."