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Looking at potential fits for C.J. Stroud on draft day

Now that Ohio State’s two-time Heisman finalist has officially declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, he is a likely candidate to be chosen near the top.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Wounds are still fresh from Ohio State’s heartbreaking Peach Bowl loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, but many have already shifted their attention toward the 2023 NFL Draft — including myself. Because, like, what even is a Peach Bowl? Sounds made up.

Furthermore, I find it wildly unfair that only four teams are chosen to participate in the College Football Playoff. Feels like an arbitrary popularity contest. So in the interest of fairness, I just decided to block out any CFB games (OSU or otherwise) played after Thanksgiving. And let me tell ya: It feels great. Vibes are high over here.

As this year’s draft approaches, former Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud will likely be the topic of much conversation now that he has officially declared. The two-time Heisman did mull over his draft decision until the declaration deadline, indicating serious interest in returning to Columbus. But the NFL opportunity was ultimately too good to pass up, and Buckeye Nation should now be cheering for him to land in the best possible situation.

Stroud is almost assured to land somewhere in the top-10, while some media pundits and draft analysts even view him as a can’t-miss top-5 prospect. And per the usual, most teams picking near the top in 2023 do have a need at Stroud’s position. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at potential destinations and/or fits for the record-setting Ohio State signal caller.

Chicago Bears, 1st overall:

Will Justin Fields be replaced by his former teammate and understudy? Well no, not if the Bears play it smart.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Would the Bears draft Stroud and trade Justin Fields!? Talk about Buckeye on Buckeye crime... However, this seems highly, highly unlikely for a number of reasons.

Among them is the fact that Fields made significant progress during his second NFL season, and showed incredible promise for the future. A mobile QB who can make difficult throws is a treasured asset in the league, and Fields’ dual-threat ability was on clear display in 2022. He should be (or be-come) the guy in Chicago for a long time.

But even if the Bears were ready to abandon their Fields experiment, they might be inclined to select Alabama’s Bryce Young over his (Fields’) former teammate in Columbus. Young is currently the betting favorite to go No. 1 overall, and there is no denying his high-end potential. I personally have concerns regarding the 2021 Heisman winner’s size and durability, but my opinion does not matter a whole heck of a lot.

If Chicago’s front office does fall in love with the former Tide QB, they could send Fields packing and prevent Stroud from establishing residence in the Windy City.

Finally, there is a world in which the Bears trade the first pick. If they love Fields and believe they can get a future star later in the draft, why not auction this pick off to the highest bidder? This actually makes the most sense.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Chicago: Extremely low, if the Bears have any sense.

Houston Texans, 2nd overall:

No thank you... Is what I would say if I were Stroud and found out that the Texans were interested in my services. Whoever gets drafted with the second overall pick is due to make a boatload of money, but Houston’s team is a flaming dumpster heading toward a gasoline plant. Stroud should want no part of their situation. I am rooting against this not only as a Buckeye fan, but also a fan of dumpster fires. Let the franchise pay for past mistakes.

Feelings toward football and pyromania aside, I must admit that the Texans could use a player – and more specifically a QB – with Stroud’s skillset. Davis Mills has not worked out in Houston, and the former Buckeye would be a massive upgrade in talent. There are virtually no weapons to choose from, but Dameon Piece showed promise, Laremy Tunsil is a franchise left tackle, and John Metchie is (thankfully!) recovering well from leukemia.

Stroud could get more out of this offense than Mills, even as a rookie. I just hope he is not forced to do so.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Houston: Low, but only because I want it to be.

Indianapolis Colts, 4th overall:

Cheer up, Colts fans! Help could be on the way.
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Now we’re talkin’. The Colts have tried the ol’ “sign or trade for a washed QB and hope for the best” approach ever since Andrew Luck retired. Surprisingly, it has not worked. Stroud would give them a young signal caller with star potential, and they wouldn’t have to trade draft capital to acquire him. They could, you know, just use the capital they have to invest in a prime asset, rather than a depreciating one. What a bright idea!

What makes this potential fit even better is that Indianapolis plays in a dome. Houston also plays in a dome. And Nashville and Jacksonville play in primarily warm weather. Those are your AFC South teams. While Stroud has performed admirably in less-than-perfect conditions, he is a California guy. He lights it up in perfect weather. So just let my man enjoy some sunshine and distribute the rock.

I like this idea a lot, and believe that No. 4 overall is the sweet spot for Stroud. The Colts are better than their 4-12-1 record, they just need a real coach and a QB who is not utterly incapable of moving in the pocket.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Indianapolis: Moderate to high — sign me up.

Seattle Seahawks, 5th overall:

This is an interesting one. On one hand, the Seahawks got a career year out of Pro Bowl QB Geno Smith. On the other hand, Smith is 32 years old and hadn’t been a relevant QB since 2014. Kudos to him for a career resurgence, but does Seattle want to hitch their wagon to a guy who was a backup for the previous seven seasons?

They might, honestly. Because Smith clearly worked on his craft and made improvements, while at the same time avoiding typical wear and tear.

However, the 30-some QB coming out of nowhere – to then experience sustained success – is not some common occurrence. The Seahawks could instead add Stroud to a young offensive core of DK Metcalf, Kenneth Walker III, and two rookie tackles, creating a potential offensive juggernaut.

But current leadership in Seattle tends to focus on balance, and their defense is not very good. So I ultimately think Pete Carroll and company target that side of the ball.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Seattle: Moderate.

Detroit Lions, 6th overall:

I’ll wrap this one up quickly. The Lions don’t need a QB. Jared Goff might not set the world on fire every single week, but he has been pretty damn good for Detroit. And he even did some things outside, in cold weather! He is 28 years old, proven, and on a reasonable contract.

This is a luxury pick for the Lions, and they should draft accordingly. Take best non-QB available.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Detroit: (should be) Very low.

Las Vegas Raiders, 7th overall:

I’ll be honest, taking a look at the entire top-10 – in January – seems ludicrous. So I am going to breeze through a few and get to my sleeper possibility.

The Raiders likely need a new QB. They benched Derek Carr, who then put out an emotional statement on Twitter, saying goodbye and thanking the team’s fans. Marriage over, right?

Jarrett Stidham started the last few games for Las Vegas, and looked great during one of them. In other news, Stidham was a fourth-round draft pick in 2019 and has looked pretty awful when not completely underestimated and ignored by the San Francisco 49ers.

If the Raiders want to move forward as a franchise, I believe they need to invest in a new QB. Stidham is fine, and the coach in Vegas knows him well, but a 27-year old journeyman rarely breaks out and finds sustained success.

Also, Stroud would look filthy in silver and black.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Las Vegas: Moderate to high, but I’m not sure he falls.

Atlanta Falcons, 8th overall:

I don’t love Desmond Ridder as a QB prospect, but the Falcons just burned a third-round pick on him. And their defense is awful. They should give Ridder a chance and take the best defensive player available.

Side note: Stroud would also look filthy in a Falcons uni.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Atlanta: Very low, other needs.

Carolina Panthers, 9th overall:

The Panthers will avoid drafting a QB early. Sam Darnold will start the season, only to be benched after a few games. He will then re-enter the lineup and look good in spurts. Or Cam Newton will be brought back.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Carolina: Moderate, but who would be excited?

Tennessee Titans, 11th overall:

Pictured (but not really): Mike Vrabel’s reaction to his Titans snagging a Buckeye QB
George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

For the record, I do not think there is any way Stroud makes it out of the top-10... But... If he does... Then Mike Vrabel come get our boy! This is my deep, deep sleeper pick for a Stroud destination, even though I know it is a pipedream. It would also mean that Stroud fell significantly in the draft, which nobody is rooting for.

The Titans currently have Ryan Tannehill on their roster, and he is a fine QB. He’s fine. But at this point in his career, he is not special. Nor is he healthy. Tannehill ended the season on IR due to an ankle injury, although he would presumably be ready to go for next season — if Tennessee chooses to keep him around.

However, Vrabel’s team could get out from under Tannehill’s rather large contract (this offseason), if they were willing to absorb a one-time dead cap hit. NFL teams do this all the time, and Tennessee could then lean into a soft rebuild by letting go of Tannehill and others. They would free up all sorts of cash to start bringing in younger players, like a C.J. Stroud.

The Titans are also in need of a new GM and a new offensive coordinator. Whoever is brought in or promoted may have no ties to Tannehill or Malik Willis. The latter was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, presumably to be the team’s heir apparent. Slight problem with that: Willis was awful as a rookie.

To be fair, he was incredibly raw coming out of college, and his transition to the pros was not aided by the roster and/or playcalling. He should have sat and watched for entire season. But when I say he was awful, I don’t even mean Zach Wilson-level awful. Willis was worse. And the team clearly did not trust him to throw the ball.

That would (or should) not be an issue if the Titans were to land Stroud. He would give them a young QB to build around — as opposed to Tannehill, who is more of a game manager or caretaker. Make it happen, Vrabel.

Likelihood of Stroud ending up in Tennessee: Silly low, but a guy can dream.

The NFL is a wild, wild scene, so anything is bound to happen in the lead-up to April’s draft. Stroud could perform well, while (Bryce) Young measures in at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. Some team could fall in love with the outgoing Buckeye QB and trade the farm to move up. You never know.

What I do know, is that whoever does draft C.J. Stroud will be getting a supreme talent. I believe this guy is the real deal, and Buckeye Nation will root for him wherever he lands.