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Buckeyes in the NFL: 2023 Fantasy Football Preview — C.J. Stroud

The No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft will likely face an uphill battle to both real-life and fantasy relevancy, but do not be surprised if he shows great process sooner rather than later.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

C.J. Stroud has faced lofty expectations since high school and met or exceeded (all of) them every step of the way. He followed in the footsteps of Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields at Ohio State, made light work of any perceived competition from other highly coveted recruits, set several program passing records while in Columbus, and then established himself as a top prospect heading into the 2023 NFL Draft.

Stroud also ended his illustrious OSU career on a high note. Not by winning a national championship, which is unfortunate, but by ‘going out on his sword’ and showing a willingness to both lead from the front and put his body on the line with the Buckeyes’ season hanging in the balance.

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

And what was his reward? Well, a nice chunk of money and prestige that comes with being a high draft pick, sure. But Stroud also ‘won’ the right or the opportunity to become the new face of the floundering Houston Texans franchise... Yay.

In all seriousness, Stroud will now encounter much loftier expectations. Because he is no longer an amateur athlete – AKA unpaid(ish) labor – surrounded by the best of the best, in a situation (at Ohio State) that has historically been set up for success. Instead, he is the highly compensated face of a multi-billion dollar franchise, tasked with leading the Texans back to the NFL playoffs or at least some sort of relevancy. And his new supporting cast? Well, it is pretty mid, as the kids would say.

Houston’s top returning pass catcher is wide receiver Nico Collins, who reeled in 37 catches for 481 yards last season... Less than ideal, although I actually like Collins as a late-round sleeper in fantasy drafts. The Texans will also welcome back WR John Metchie, who bravely battled leukemia last year but is thus far unproven at the NFL level. To supplement their thin WR core, the team added Robert Woods and Noah Brown (fellow Buckeye) in free agency and drafted Tank Dell in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, but those are all just ‘guys’.

Woods and Brown barely combined for 1,000 yards last season, and Dell is 165 pounds soaking wet! The latter did put up 1,400 yards and 17 TD at the University of Houston in 2022, but I am curious to see if he can make an impact at the next level.

But it is not all doom and gloom for Stroud as he embraces this new challenge. Because while his WRs leave something to be desired, Houston added a quality tight end via free agency. Dalton Schultz, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, experienced a dip in production last season but was one of the most productive TEs in the NFL in 2021 (808 yards and 8 TD).

The Texans also return running back Dameon Pierce in their backfield, who rushed for 939 yards as a rookie, in just 13 games. And lastly, the team boasts a very solid offensive line. Anchored by star left tackle Laremy Tunsil, they also added veteran guard Shaq Mason and drafted former Penn State center Juice Scruggs during the offseason. At the very least, these guys should keep Stroud upright.

Which brings us to the former Ohio State Buckeye and two-time Heisman finalist. Look, his new situation – in terms of both real life and fantasy football – could be much more promising. Houston has struggled to field a competent team since their last franchise QB developed a penchant for off-the-books massages. And rookie QBs are hit-or-miss even under the best of circumstances.

But Stroud is much closer to a Trevor Lawrence type (promising) than he is a Zack Wilson or Malik Willis type (concerning, to say the least). He may or may not find great success right away in the NFL, but I absolutely believe that he will out-perform most expectations, as well as his current ADP in fantasy.

Regardless of where he is at and/or who he is throwing the ball to, Stroud is a polished and accurate passer. When those guys struggle in the NFL, it tends to be because the line in front of them is porous. That is not the case in Houston. Pro Football Network has the Texans’ O-line ranked 14th, putting them slightly above average. Tackles Tunsil and Tytus Howard are among the better bookend duos in the league, and the addition(s) of Mason and Scruggs should help make this entire unit better than last year’s version which only gave up 38 sacks.

Stroud’s weapons are what they are; a far cry from the group of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Emeka Egbuka, and Marvin Harrison Jr. (not to mention all the OSU RBs). But Metchie was electric when he last played at Alabama, and Collins has plenty of hypothetical upside at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.

Woods, Brown, and Dell are all lottery tickets at this point, but the vets have at least been around the block, and the latter is another player with upside. Schultz could easily replicate his 2021 season, and Pierce would have been a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie had he been healthy for 15-17 games. So it could be worse... Not much worse, but at least there are pieces with which to work.

I have not seen Stroud ranked higher than No. 25 (QBs) in any fantasy rankings, which is probably fair given his circumstances. However, I believe that he has a higher ceiling, even as a rookie. And a much, much higher ceiling in years two, three, and beyond of his career. He is currently being ranked ahead of QBs such as Ryan Tannehill, Mac Jones, Baker Mayfield, and Desmond Ridder — and behind the likes of Kenny Pickett, Jordan Love, and fellow rookie Bryce Young.

But I do not see any reason why he cannot finish in or around the top-20. Marcus Mariota was QB20 last season, and he did not play after Week 13. Dak Prescott finished as QB18, and he missed six weeks due to injury. So maybe I am setting the bar too low for the Texans rookie.

Stroud will never be a major running threat, but I do expect him to take care of the ball. And Houston will likely be trailing in many of their games, so that should lead to more opportunities for their new franchise QB. For all the reasons above – and many, many more – I will be targeting Stroud as a late-round fantasy flier. Call me a homer or call me crazy; I have certainly heard worse. But I expect big things from the No. 2 overall pick, primarily because he has given us no (recent) reason not to.