NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2018. This is the eighth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason. Click through the tabs below to see all of them.
Auburn should be one of the more fascinating teams to follow in the upcoming college football season. The Tigers' defense is loaded with talent, and they return one of the top signal-callers in the country: Jarrett Stidham. Gus Malzahn's squad has all of the ingredients to win a national championship. We already witnessed the Tigers' immense potential last season, when they knocked off both teams that ended up playing in the national championship game. But for Auburn to maximize its promise in 2018 -- and play for the ultimate prize on January 7 -- it will need Stidham to be a little more consistent. I spent some time studying his play from last season and here is my First Look report:
Jarrett Stidham, redshirt junior quarterback, Auburn
Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds (school measurements).
2017 statistics: 246-of-370 (66.5 percent) for 3,158 yards, 18 TDs and 6 INTs.
Game tape watched: Arkansas (Oct. 21, 2017), Georgia (Nov. 11, 2017), Alabama (Nov. 25, 2017).
What I liked: Stidham lacks elite size, but he's big enough for the position. He has plenty of arm strength and throws a very tight ball. I was quite impressed after watching him spin it at the Elite 11 camp a few weeks ago. The 21-year-old is very accurate in the quick game and shows the ability to change ball speed. He really excels throwing the deep ball coming off play action, and he does a good job using the width of the field to give guys plenty of room to run under the ball.
Stidham is also very effective throwing on the move. He squares his shoulders and displays the ability to layer the ball over underneath defenders. His athleticism is a big asset in the running game. He's used on designed QB draws, as well as in the zone-read game. He has similar athleticism to Mitchell Trubisky when he was coming out of North Carolina.
Where he needs to improve: It's tough to evaluate the quarterback in Malzahn's attack because of the lack of intermediate throws and full-field reads. This offense heavily features the quick game, deep shots off play action and gadget plays. There were a few examples of his ability to drive the ball down the seam and connect on deep-over routs, but they are few and far between. He'll likely need some time to develop in the NFL, due to the limited opportunities in this area.
I'd also like to see Stidham improve his patience in the pocket. His internal clock goes off too early at times and he will take off running. As a result, there are some missed opportunities and he takes unnecessary hits as a runner. This can be improved with more reps, and I think he'll be more comfortable in the upcoming season.
Biggest takeaway: Last year, Auburn's offense was heavily run-based, but I expect Stidham to have more control this fall. He is arguably the most talented thrower in the country, but he needs to continue to develop as a pure quarterback. I was very impressed after seeing him throw in person at Elite 11, and I look forward to seeing him live -- in a game setting -- this fall.
He reminds me of: Derek Carr. Both guys have a similar body type and are excellent athletes for the position. They have the arm strength to fit balls into tight windows and are accurate on the move. Carr displayed better touch coming out of college, but Stidham is competent in that department. Both guys come from a spread attack, although Carr played in a more traditional system earlier in his collegiate career. Carr has established himself as a top-tier quarterback in the NFL, and I believe Stidham has similar potential.
I can't wait to see him play: Washington on Sept. 1. In the marquee game of college football's opening weekend, Stidham will be challenged by one of the top secondaries in the nation. Washington has depth at cornerback, and Taylor Rapp is an outstanding safety. The Huskies run an aggressive scheme defensively, and they have all offseason to prepare for Stidham and the Malzahn attack. If Stidham performs well on this stage, against this opponent, it could really kick-start his Heisman campaign. It would also grab the attention of NFL evaluators.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.