Perfect Prospect? – Analyzing CJ Stroud

CJ Stroud graduated from Rancho Cucamonga High School as a consensus 4-star recruit by ESPN and 247. Despite heavy recruitment from schools such as Georgia and Michigan, Stroud decided to call Columbus, Ohio home, and his career as a Buckeye started.

After redshirting his freshman year (backup to now Chicago Bears starter Justin Fields), Stroud saw action in a total of 12 games in 2021 for the Buckeyes in his Sophomore season. He finished with 4,424 yards on 443 attempts (71.6% completion), 44 touchdowns and only four interceptions, and a total QBR of 130.8. Stroud also finished second in the nation in pass efficiency rating (186.6).

After leading the top statistical offense of 2021 (No. 1 nationally in total offense and scoring offense, and No. 3 passing offense) Stroud was awarded the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year, and the Gries-Brees Quarterback of the Year, as well as being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

2022 continued to prove astounding for Stroud, as he played 14 games, finishing with 3,684 yards on 390 attempts (65.9% completion) for 41 touchdowns and a total QBR of 125. Stroud also led the nation in pass efficiency rating (177.7).

How well could this transfer to the NFL?

Following in Justin Fields’ footsteps is no easy task, but Stroud made it look effortless. Statistically, Stroud put up better numbers than Fields’ time in Columbus. Sure, his receivers and linemen were NFL-caliber, but you can’t argue with stats. Through his two seasons as a Buckeye, Stroud finished with an astonishing 8,000+ passing yards 85 touchdowns, and only 12 interceptions.

It did take some time for Stroud to settle in as a starter in his first season, but since Week 5 of 2021, Stroud has continuously been in the Heisman conversation.

Stroud could have a similar progression and path in the NFL, as he would likely be a day-1 starter to whichever franchise drafts him. He may struggle early on, especially if he is drafted by a “weaker” team, but there is little doubt that Stroud possesses the talent and maturity to succeed in professional football.

In a clean pocket, Stroud is arguably the best quarterback in the country. If he has time to throw, he is virtually guaranteed to pick apart the defense and find an open receiver. Granted, it helps that Stroud had the best offensive line and receiving core in college football, but he has had to make accurate reads and throws. He’s been blessed with historically good Ohio State teams, but he is still the one leading the huddle.

To identify a first-round worthy QB pick, you must look at size. Stroud is listed at 6 foot 3 inches and 218 pounds, so he absolutely fits the mold of a sturdy quarterback. With that frame, he boasts a crisp, tight release. He is fast and efficient with his throwing motion, and easily reaches all levels of the field.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Stroud’s arm is his elasticity. He has exceptional feel and touch, and knows exactly when to adjust the pace of his throws, as well as manipulating trajectory. Stroud is exceptional at placing throws ahead of receivers to set up valuable yards after catch, and he also has enough arm strength to accurately deliver passes on the move, or while his base is fading back. He’s also shown he has the ability to adjust arm angles to properly deliver passes while on the run.

One aspect of Stroud’s game we didn’t see much of was his mobility. Stroud is underrated as a runner and is natural at creating space on boot actions and rollouts, and he can extend plays on the ground as well. He uses short, deliberate movements to escape rushes, and he has the lateral athleticism to sidestep blitzes and create additional space and time for himself.

In the pocket, Stroud does well at feeling and anticipating pressure, and can pre-emptively step up to buy himself time. He’s exceptional at maintaining space and has active feet throughout the play. He’s comfortable staying poised, reading the field, and can stand in amidst contact to deliver passes. When he does roll out, he keeps his eyes downfield, and he also has enough speed to beat outside rushers and keep the play alive.

As accurate as Stroud is, his mental fortitude and ability is even more impressive. He is an extremely smart quarterback, who quickly goes through reads and process leverage. He’s able to quickly diagnose coverage and make pre-snap adjustments and is not afraid to do so.

With his receivers, Stroud is also able to anticipate options and maximize efficiency, especially on quick throws. He reacts quickly to option breaks and has the anticipation, arm strength, and confidence to make difficult throws.

Stroud is an intelligent, composed leader, and measured decision-maker who comfortably works through reads and progressions. As far as collegiate quarterbacks go, he is arguably one of, if not the best, composed QB in this draft class.

Despite this, Stroud does have areas for improvement.

I mentioned before how successful Stroud is with a clean pocket (71.7% completion rate, 35 TDs, 93.4 PFF grade). Under pressure, Stroud becomes a shell of himself (41.3% completion rate, six TDs, 42.0 PFF).

The same can be said for virtually any quarterback, but Stroud is notably bad when the pocket collapses. He ranks 97th in PFF grade out of 144 qualifying QBs under pressure. Stroud excels in a sturdy pocket, although he can be a bit of a statue in the pocket as well. It’s odd that coming into college he was touted as a dual-threat running QB, but he never really got an opportunity to use his legs at Ohio State. He will definitely have to work on this for the next level, as the NFL is beginning to move away from pure-pocket passers and rely more on dual-threat mobile QBs.

While in the pocket, Stroud also could benefit from improving his footwork more. His drops aren’t consistently synced to the routes, and there is notable wasted movement. He stays on his toes with his heels off the ground, which can lead to inconsistencies and issues setting a base for his throws. Also, while his pass-first mentality is appreciated by some, Stroud needs to weaponize his running ability in order to fully reach his potential.

Stroud also occasionally stares down his receivers, keying in defenders, and he sometimes forces passes with his arm. Most notably, he will probably need strong adjustments from a WR-option-heavy offense.

He also needs to become more comfortable running off-script. We saw flashes of this in the playoffs against Georgia’s pressure, but it was an anomaly during his time as a Buckeye.

Team sources for Ohio State have also mentioned Stroud is more reserved and quiet, and not very vocal as a leader. Franchises may not like this, as most want their playcaller to be the true leader of the huddle and locker room.

Regardless, Stroud is a definite top-10 pick in the NFL Draft and is a potential first overall pick. The real question is will he be picked first overall? It’s a matter of preference, and really comes down to which franchise holds the pick come draft night.

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