2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: QB C.J. Stroud (Fantasy Football)
It’s that time again…
Regardless of where you land as a true “watch the tape” grinder, you take a stats-only approach, or you admittedly look at this just for fun, there is no room to shame anyone who wants to begin evaluating the upcoming rookie class. While I’ve been writing for the Fantasy Footballers since 2016 and dabbled in some film work in past for other companies, I think my strength in looking at rookie QBs is asking a simple question: What am I not seeing? We ask big questions and reflect.
This is arguably the most crucial part of any scouting analysis, in my opinion. It is easy to splice together highlight reel takes and forget that we are looking at college football players; in other words, the majority of players the prospect faced will never be playing on an NFL field and likely will be vying to sell you life insurance or go to high school coaching. We cannot only glean from film watching based on what our eyeballs are showing us. This is a puzzle in which none of us have all the pieces to assemble a final product. Not even NFL scouts and franchises with billions of dollars are able to see the whole picture of what a prospect can be at the next level considering there is an emotional and psychological component for this type of limelight and profession. The offensive system, the coaching, the skill position players all factor in as well. (See Zach Wilson. Remember Jamarcus Russell. Never forget Mitch Trubisky.)
QB-needy teams such as the Texans, Colts, Raiders, and Panthers all are in a position to snag the Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud within the first ten picks of the draft, although there could be some movement via trades if someone wants to pay up to get their franchise QB. After reviewing his production in college and comparing him using his athletic measurables, let’s find out what we see on film and what our eyes aren’t seeing take place on the football field before giving a final outlook on his fantasy future.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
College Production Profile
After taking over for Justin Fields in 2021, Stroud hit the ground running with two absolute monster seasons ending as a Heisman finalist in both campaigns. His 8,123 passing yards and 85 passing TDs over the last two seasons dwarf the aforementioned Fields and put in the rarified air of QBs with back-to-back 40+ TD seasons at such a young age. One of the factors we look at in our production profiles in the Dynasty Pass is breakout age which we define as “the age at which a QB posts a QBR of 50+”. Stroud’s breakout age of 19.9 is the best in this class and surpasses our benchmarks as “excellent” for a QB prospect in the top 80th percentile. To compare, here are all 1st round QBs selected since 2017 to give you a reference with
Breakout age isn’t the only metric as you can see a couple of misses and some glaring “what the heck happened” prospects who were drafted highly.
Let’s discuss Stroud’s production in the context of his physical attributes.
At 6’3, Stroud has the ideal size you look for an NFL QB. He’s slender and can easily weigh above 220-225 once he becomes a starter. He had only three passes batted at the line on 423 dropbacks but the way he uses his length is not as a big-armed gunslinger but more of a “distributor” of the offense. You’ll see that label multiple times in my evaluation as it better describes Stroud’s playing style and strengths than simply calling him tall.
This is a mere projection but based on running a sub-4.8 from Stroud, here are the other recent 1st round picks who were between 75-76 inches tall, 215-225 pounds, and also hit that 40-time.
|North Dakota St.
That is quite the wide range of outcomes strictly using physical comparisons. When you factor in the production at Ohio State and the physical presence, you can see why Stroud is likened to Burrow as a field general and point guard from a high-octane offense.
What’s On Tape
Ok enough talk about his raw numbers and physical stature. What do we see on the actual football field from Stroud?
My method for watching film is simple: get out a pen and pad of paper. Watch each pass attempt taking note of the down and distance and simply write down what I see. For a QB, I focus on accuracy, aDOT, footwork, locating 2nd reads, and how they stand in the pocket under pressure. For Stroud, I took seven of his highest-profile games including two bowl games and some big-time opponents on the road.
Games Viewed: Georgia (2022), Michigan (2022), Penn State (2022), Michigan State (2022), Notre Dame (2022), Utah (2022), Oregon (2021)
1. He’s more of a distributor/point guard than you might realize.
The Ohio State offense is a breeding ground for the NFL as Ryan Day’s spread offenses flourish with multiple WRs who are starting on Sundays. (More on those guys in a minute…) The beauty of the system is Stroud gets to operate as Chris Paul, a point guard who picks his spots to dial up big plays or simply hit the open man. Stroud’s arm motion is a bit shorter and he doesn’t necessarily have the same “pop” or rip as the truly elite QBs. Regardless, his ability to recognize coverages and hit receivers in stride is apparent. He often throws to spots more than to receivers which is a trait few college QBs can master as simple one-read plans are installed by coordinators. As a freshman, he led Ohio State to a huge come-from-behind victory against Utah in the Rose Bowl in a game best known for Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s monster 347-yard explosion. JSN’s numbers are as much a tribute to his after-the-catch ability as Stroud’s relentless ability to eat up zone coverage. He dropped some absolute dimes along the left sideline throughout the game as evidenced here.
Against Michigan State, his six TDs were from all over the field including a few off his back foot with touch on deep passes. The point guard comparison is not meant to be any slight against his arm but rather an emphasis on the array of routes and depths of the field he can have success at.
2. He can hit throws outside the numbers.
Normally, we praise QBs who can do this by sheer strength, like how Justin Herbert was blessed with a Howitzer. Or how Josh Allen steps into throws and achieves unreal velocity on throws outside the numbers. Stroud’s arm motion isn’t necessarily a “whip” or a “flick” but the way he uses his body matched with precise timing makes one of the most difficult throws for a QB look relatively routine. Stepping into throws from a proper base is a vital trait to notice. Against Penn State, he ate up their defense, especially on a late 4th quarter drive ending in
He led the NCAA in receiving yards and touchdowns (15) in the intermediate area of the field (10-19 yards) routinely eating up safeties with the way he uses his eyes. Here’s a throw in their loss to Michigan which not only wowed the announcers but shows you how far across the field these kind of dimes are thrown from.
3. He can manipulate the pocket and roll to the right.
Rushing numbers for college QBs are hard to truly encapsulate when you consider the NCAA takes away yardage when a QB gets sacked. Stroud’s numbers look pedestrian with one total rushing score in 26 career games. But the tools are there and the film shows he’s comfortable making plays outside the pocket.
The Georgia game was by far the toughest test for Stroud in his entire college career. It was easily his most complete game not only when looking at the stat sheet but his footwork went to another level. I was impressed with the way he manipulated the pocket, showcased his strengths as a thrower on the run, and escaped pressure better than I’d seen in the rest of his tape. There is an early TD to Marvin Harrison Jr. where Stroud bides his time, rolls to the right, and directs his WR to open space while delivering a 30-yard strike on the run. Do yourself a favor and go watch how former QB Josh McCown breaks down this game to appreciate what Stroud did against the National Champions.
What’s Not on Tape
Here are a couple of takeaways from what didn’t show up:
1. Snaps under pressure
Among QBs in this 2023 class, Stroud was pressured on just 21.1 percent of his dropbacks, second lowest behind only Georgia’s Stetson Bennett. In a clean pocket, he absolutely murdered tied with the most passing TDs (35) in the country. It’s easy to peruse Stroud’s film and come away thinking how incredible he is at distributing the football. But you can also flip the narrative and say that hasn’t faced a consistent pass rush for most of college. When he was pressured, I won’t lie: he struggled. The 2022 Michigan game is one to watch if you want to see Stroud and the Ohio State flustered compared to their usual workman-like approach. He stared down slant routes more than you might’ve wanted but that is common for young QBs. Notre Dame also did a great job getting home while rushing only four causing more incompletions, especially in the first half. Some of his PFF numbers also tell some of the same stories as he ranked 97th of 144 eligible QBs in terms of grade under pressure with 7.2 percent of his attempts deemed as “turnover-worthy”, in the bottom 10 percentile.
Granted, this was only his second career start, but you could see some youthful mistakes in Oregon’s upset of Ohio State in 2021. Down by a touchdown in the 4th quarter, Stroud had multiple drives that seemed to be working in the Buckeyes’ favor. However, after an early penalty backed the team up, he was pressured on three consecutive plays resulting in a sack, a tipped ball that should’ve been intercepted, and finally another pressure resulting in an INT.
It’s hard to hold plays like this against him given the level of competition as well as playing this game at the ripe age of 19. He could’ve picked up 8-10 yards on the ground and put himself in a more manageable 4th down but you can’t blame him for looking for Chris Olave. His escapability and consistency of making chain-moving throws under pressure definitely grew as you watched his film from 2021 to 2022. He’s never going to be former teammate Justin Fields as a runner but comping him to a Trevor Lawrence or Patrick Mahomes on the ground is not out of the question. They pick up first downs with size, elite footwork, and recognizing coverage breakdowns more than top-end speed or elusiveness. 250+ rushing yards in a season is well within range for Stroud at the NFL level.
2. Poor receivers.
Is it the chicken or the egg? You can make an argument that Stroud was the beneficiary of having arguably the best collection of college WRs… of all time. Seriously, consider he played with two 1st round draft picks (Garrett Wilson & Chris Olave) along with a projected 1st round draft pick in 2023 (Jaxon Smith-Njigba), and oh… by the way, probably the most dominant of all of those players (Marvin Harrison Jr.) will likely be the WR1 in 2024’s draft. Sophomore Emeka Egbuka runs a 4.30 and he likely will be in the mix of a fringe 1st rounder in 2024. Heck, former Ohio State great and current OC Brian Hartline thinks senior wideout Julian Fleming could sneak in as a 1st rounder as well. It was a smorgasbord of wide receiver talent.
You can’t knock Stroud for simply playing with the players who were on his team. You can also flip the argument and say Stroud helped elevate some of these players. Regardless of how you want to look at the situation, Stroud won’t have the same all-star cast of characters for whoever selects him in the top 10 of the draft. Whether it is Houston, Indianapolis, or Carolina, all three of those teams also desperately need upgrades at the WR position. One of the more intriguing landing spots is with Las Vegas where pairing him with Davante Adams might make sense in the short term but that team is aging across the board.
Stroud’s production, likely top-5 draft capital, and physical tools displayed on film make him one of my favorite recent rookie QB profiles of the last five years. He can operate in a spread offense, use his athleticism, and produce under the right tutelage and offensive system. (Please let his offensive coordinator not try to recreate him into an I-formation-only, 1980s style offense…) I mentioned on Twitter how his film against Georgia was one of the best individual games I’ve seen from a prospect ranking up there with rookie profiles I did on Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. That is high praise as he mixes the size, outside the number throws, and point-guard mentality that both of those QBs showcased in college.
In our first rookie mock draft in the Dynasty Pass, Stroud went at the 1.12 in a 1QB league. Surprise, surprise… it was me who selected him. Stroud is in the conversation to be the 1st QB off the board in the NFL Draft with Bryce Young. As of this publishing, his odds (+200) are slightly behind Young’s (-175) on DraftKings Sportsbook but it ultimately comes down to different teams, their evaluations, and what type of archetype they want in a QB. The most common landing spots according MockDraftDatabase.com are the Texans (#2), Colts (#4), Seahawks (#5), and Raiders (#7) with the Panthers (#9) likely needing to move up if they want Stroud’s services. Indianapolis is intriguing from a developmental standpoint with new head coach Shane Steichen while Seattle would give him the best situation to impact fantasy football early on. Keep in mind that nearly 70 percent of rookie QBs fail to sustain even one top-36 WR in their first year in the NFL but perhaps D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett would can be the exception.