Taken second overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, C.J. Stroud was not celebrated or seen by all – maybe even most – as a homerun pick. Despite attending The Ohio State
University quarterback factory, putting up video game numbers, and twice finishing in the top four of the Heisman voting, there was still (seemingly manufactured) skepticism that his game would translate to the next level. Not only that, but there were also folks who questioned the former Buckeye’s toughness, desire or will to win, and even his intelligence.
Because Stroud appeared to be a reluctant runner in Columbus, was part of a team that lost a few big games, and supposedly scored poorly on some test, certain people were quick to label him ‘this’ or ‘that’. Stroud also had a stigma attached to him; one that comes with being a recent OSU QB. His name was mentioned with the likes of Miller, Barrett, Jones, and unfortunately even Haskins and Fields, as Buckeye signal callers whose talents or attributes did not work in the NFL.
Now, I am not here to defend or make a case for those other legendary QBs, but I could if I wanted to. Let’s just say that Stroud vs. anybody is not an apples-to-apples comparison and move on...
The conversation surrounding Stroud ultimately had little to no effect on his draft status, as he ended up going No. 2 to the Houston Texans, joining a rookie head coach, a bunch of other young guys, and several middling vets. No offense, but the Texans’ roster is simply not one that you would put together in Madden. So that became one more obstacle in the way of Stroud becoming a successful NFL quarterback. Something that is difficult enough without said obstacles, outside noise, internal pressure, etc.
Anyway, I gave you (or jogged your memory about) the backstory to now deliver a real-time update, which is that Stroud is absolutely balling in Houston. And the haters are sick as a result! But this should come as no real surprise to those of us who spent years watching the former Buckeye and also subscribe to Rasheed Wallace’s idiom of ‘ball don’t lie’.
Stroud has not just hit the ground running; he has actually taken the NFL by storm in record-breaking fashion. He is off to arguably the best start ever by a rookie QB, trailing only Cam Newton in total passing yards through four games, while also adding six touchdowns. And he (Stroud) has compiled these impressive stats (1,212 yards, 6 TD) without throwing a single interception, becoming the first player in NFL history to do so over the course of his first four games.
All of this – plus two wins – with a banged up offensive line and essentially no running game to speak of. I mean, seriously. How impressive has this guy been!?
More importantly, Stroud just contributed to Houston’s first victory at home since Dec. 26, 2021. That’s right, this Texans franchise in seemingly perpetual rebuild had not won a home game since the day after Christmas — (nearly) two years ago! Now, on top of notching that long-awaited home dub and having a real chance in the AFC South, Paul Wall’s favorite team has a QB they can and want to build around.
To replace the last guy, who... uhhh... wore out his welcome. Seems like onward and upward in Houston, with a massive upgrade in the leadership, personnel, and vibes department(s).
But again, no surprise to the Stroud Hive. Because C.J. also hit the ground running in Columbus — the same way he has thus far in Houston. Granted, his supporting cast at Ohio State was leaps and bounds better than most of the competition his team faced, but I digress.
Stroud took the reins of the QB position (at OSU) in 2021 and never looked back. He threw for over 8,000 yards and 85 TD in just 25 starts, and the only real ‘weakness’ he showed was a potential aversion to running... A narrative he more or less dispelled during last season’s CFP game against the Georgia Bulldogs.
So when Draft SZN rolled around, and certain analysts/evaluators/pundits/whomever began to poke holes in Stroud’s game, it seemed agenda or hot take-driven. There was little authenticity to their arguments. The kid checked all physical boxes, showed he could command an NFL-style offense, make all the reads, all the throws, and do so with a seemingly good head on his shoulders.
What’s the problem, not tough enough? Wrong. Blew off Peyton Manning? Wrong again. Terrible test taker? Maybe, but who cares! The bottom line is this: C.J. Stroud was the best QB prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. But several ‘professional evaluators’ wanted to sell us on literally anyone else, just so they could get some camera time.
“Ohio State QBs don’t succeed.”— Sam Block (@theblockspot) October 3, 2023
“Bad S2 Test score. Unintelligent.”
“Needs a dominant OL to win.”
“Has to be in a perfect situation.”
“Has no mobility & an average arm.”
“Has BUST written all over him.”
“Will Levis is a much better QB.”
CJ STROUD SAID WATCH ME. pic.twitter.com/tCX8Uz11rI
Now Stroud is the betting favorite to win NFL Rookie of the Year. He will continue to battle the likes of
Jerry Rice Puka Nacua (Los Angeles Rams), Marshall Faulk Bijan Robinson (Atlanta Falcons), and The actual Flash De’Von Achane (Miami Dolphins), but as the QB and face of his franchise, the former Buckeye should have a slight edge.
That being said, I don’t think ROTY would mean a damn thing to Stroud if his Texans team went 5-12. He wants to win. He showed as much against UGA, he has talked about the importance of doing so in Houston, and it seems to genuinely be his primary motivation.
The Houston franchise and its fans should be pretty happy. As should supporters and fans of Ohio State, who watched Stroud develop into a certified stud. The Texans got a good one. All because they knew and/or know that ball don’t lie.