En route to winning the AFC South, C.J. Stroud was one of nine quarterbacks to eclipse 4,000 yards passing, did so with the third-best yards-per-attempt average a 8.2 and tossed 23 touchdowns to just five picks. Quite easily, he just completed one of the finest rookie quarterback seasons we've ever seen.
Where does his rookie season rank among the best recent rookie quarterback campaigns?
We'll go back to 2010 for stylistic similarity as to how the quarterback position is now played. And I've only ranked the top 8 full rookie quarterback seasons for a reason. They're really the only ones worth ranking. Let's dive in. (NOTE: This is an update from November, and I had to change Robert Griffin III and Baker Mayfield. Had those wrong to begin with.)
8. Kyler Murray, 2019
Murray won the Rookie of the Year in 2019 but his first year in the NFL doesn't quite stack up to the rest of those on this list. His big-time throw rate of 4.0% was very respectable, as was his 2.7% turnover-worthy play rate. His yards-per-attempt average of 6.9, not so much. While good for the vast majority of rookies, it's just not amazing here, and his aDOT was just 7.6 in Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense that also featured a plethora of screens and quick underneath throws. Murray did run for 544 yards at a 5.8 yards-per-carry clip and looked like Mario on most of those scampers.
7. Dak Prescott, 2016
Not that it was Prescott's fault, but he landed in the coziest environment of any quarterback on this list. In 2016, the Cowboys had an elite offensive line and a dynamic rookie power back in Ezekiel Elliott. Out wide, Prescott had in-his-prime Dez Bryant, in-his-prime Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten at his disposal. Prescott didn't just ride the coattails of his teammates. He orchestrated the offense calmly for the entire duration of his rookie campaign with 11 of his 16 games featuring a quarterback rating over 100.
6. Robert Griffin III, 2012
In young Kyle Shanahan's offense, with Matt LaFleur as his quarterbacks coach and Sean McVay and Mike McDaniel also on the offensive staff, RG3 was an instant rockstar in D.C. Now, he didn't have three All-Pro receivers at his disposal, but the Washington offensive line was sturdy and could lean on a stellar run game led by fellow rookie Alfred Morris.
RG3 is a bit lower on this list because of what know now about Shanahan's offensive brilliance and ability to maximize a quarterback's efficiency. His 3.7% big-time throw rate and 2.3% turnover-worthy play rates were good, not great, and there wasn't a single game in his rookie season in which Griffin III attempted 40 passes. He was very much operating a ball-control offense. And he operated it outstandingly. Can't forget his 843 yards rushing with nine scores on the ground either. One of the flashiest and most fun rookie quarterback seasons in league history.
5. C.J. Stroud, 2023
Stroud is the lifeforce behind the Texans going from No. 2 overall pick to AFC South champions. He played with sheer confidence as a thrower all year, was ultra aggressive, and made big plays in critical moments over and over again for Houston in the regular season. His 4.3% BTT rate was good, not amazing, and his 2.9% TWP rate indicated he probably should've had a few more than five interceptions and eight fumbles. For perspective on the latter stat: Patrick Mahomes had the same TWP percentage and finished with 14 interceptions and fumbled on five occasions.
Despite turnover luck being on his side, Stroud's aDOT of 9.4 was fourth among qualifiers, and he orchestrated three game-winning drives. After returning from injury that came during his worst outing as a rookie against the Jets, Stroud was lights out in two divisional games against the Titans and Colts to help win the division. In those contests, he completed 75.8% of his throws at 8.2 yards per attempt with three touchdowns, no interceptions, and three BTTs with no TWPs. He operated Bobby Slowik's slick offense magnificently all season. Oh, and he lost fellow rookie stud Tank Dell at receiver in Week 13.
4. Baker Mayfield, 2018
Mayfield looked like the worthwhile No. 1 overall pick as a rookie in Cleveland. Throwing to Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins, Mayfield put the Browns offense on his back in 2018. His 9.6 yards aDOT proves he wasn't a conservative passer whatsoever. More evidence of that lies with his robust 7.7% big-time throw rate. His 3.1% turnover-worthy play rate was solid albeit unspectacular, and he provided essentially nothing on the ground. Mayfield's 74.0% adjusted completion rate was awesome for most rookies, just not those on this list. Altogether, Mayfield's Oklahoma play transitioned seamlessly to Cleveland in 2018.
3. Cam Newton, 2011
Newton burst onto the scene in an unprecedented way, with a 422-yard aerial display in his NFL debut after being a polarizing first overall pick by the Panthers. He maintained his ultra-aggressive ways that season, with a hefty 10.0 aDOT and a big-time throw rate of 8.2%. He wasn't incredibly accurate -- the long-ball propensity needs to be considered there -- and did have a turnover-worthy play rate of 4.4%. Newton was a ran the football unlike the league had ever seen at quarterback, given his size, athleticism, and power combination. He had 706 yards on the grounds with 14 rushing scores. Incredible.
2. Justin Herbert, 2020
Herbert threw 596 passes as a rookie en route to setting the rookie passing touchdown record. His big-time throw rate was an impressive 4.9% to just a 2.3% turnover-worthy play rate. And it's not like Herbert operated behind a Fort Knox offensive line. He was pressured on 36.6% of his drop backs that year (11th-highest rate in football) and, remarkably, led all quarterbacks with a 99.4 rating under pressure.
Mostly thanks to his bazooka arm and aggressive tendency as a thrower, Herbert's rookie season was absolutely dazzling in Los Angeles.
1. Russell Wilson, 2012
Wilson's rookie season gets overlooked because of the all-time strength of Seattle's defense. Yes, Wilson was fortunate to land in Seattle when the Legion of Boom was in its prime, but his individual performance in Year 1 represents the gold-standard for recent rookie quarterback campaigns.
His average depth of target was a whopping 10.3 yards. His BTT was a gargantuan 7.1% while he was charged with a turnover-worthy play on only 1.7% of his drop backs in 2012. He ran for nearly 500 yards and despite all his improvisational wizardry was sacked on less than 8.0% of his drop backs. Wilson spread the ball around wonderfully to a, then, relatively unproven receiver group led by Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and second-year pro Doug Baldwin. It's easy to focus on the impact Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas had on the Seahawks in 2012. But Wilson's rookie season was genuinely special.