C.J. Stroud is making it look easy. As we’ve seen firsthand, many recent rookie quarterbacks have struggled as they adjust to the NFL. The QBs atop the 2021 NFL Draft had their bumps, with Mac Jones — who has since twice been benched for Bailey Zappe — looking like the best of that bunch that season.The best signal-caller from last year is Mr. Irrelevant — the LAST pick of the draft —Brock Purdy, who is playing with the luxury accommodation of teammates and coaches. Now in 2023, we have Stroud, an Ohio State product, playing like a veteran and carrying the Houston Texans, with rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans, back to respectability.
Stroud, the No. 2 overall selection, was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. He opened up October with his second 300-plus yard passing game of the season in a 30-6 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That win was the Texans’ first at home since the day after Christmas 2021.
His completion percentage in Week 4 was by far the lowest of his short NFL career at 53 percent. The Texans were starting a mash unit of an offensive line against a dominant Steelers’ pass rush that went into Houston leading the NFL in both sacks (13) and pressures (40.) Along the Texans’ offensive front, the only active player who began the season as a projected starter was Shaq Mason.
Stroud faced 11 pressures on the day and was hit six times, but the Steelers did not record a single sack. Of his 16 completions on the day, Stroud was most successful when pushing the ball down the field. He was 9-of-14 on passes of 10 or more air yards down the field, including a 52-yard touchdown to Nico Collins.
What stands out most when watching Stroud play is his poise. He turned 22 years old on Tuesday, yet on the field he never looks panicked with the ball in his hands. Not every play goes the way he intended, but as a rookie, he is a steadying presence for his football team and their makeshift offensive line.
As a passer, Stroud’s arm is special. When he releases the ball it pops out of his hand. It’s as if there is gunpowder in his fingertips. Stroud is also in complete control of that quick-action release. He can place the ball over the top of a defender, to the side, and in through windows. A criticism coming out of college is that he is hesitant to use his running ability. Stroud has not broken any long runs but his legs have bought extra time to make throws, as well as a few yards when necessary.
Through four weeks, Stroud is playing quarterback at a historic level. He is the only player in NFL history to total 1,200-plus passing yards and no interceptions through his first four starts. Also, his performance in Week 4 made him the first rookie since the merger to throw for 250-plus pass yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in three consecutive games. With 1,212 total passing yards, Stroud is second only to Cam Newton for most through their first four games.
It is common for rookie quarterbacks to struggle. Most are put in rebuilding situations, and shaky foundations. Stroud was no different. The Texans have been in disarray since 2021, and they entered the season with a patchwork offensive line.
Through four games, the Texans are 2-2. That speaks to good play and coaching across the board, but none of that would be possible without Stroud behind center like a player much older than 22.
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