C.J. Stroud entered the NFL a little under-the-radar, at least compared to his QB counterparts in the 2023 NFL Draft. Bryce Young was the top pick and people were drooling over Anthony Richardson's superhuman abilities. Meanwhile, Stroud was getting grief for his S2 score. Things have changed quickly as Stroud has had the best start of the trio and was just awarded with September Offensive Rookie of the Month honors. His teammate, tight end Brevin Jordan boldly proclaimed this after the Texans' upset win over the Jaguars on Sunday.
"The best thing that happened to the Houston Texans' franchise was us beating the Indianapolis Colts last game, last year," Jordan told ESPN. "We drafted the right guy. Man, he's a leader. He's a phenomenal player and a phenomenal guy with God-given talent. Dude, he's unbelievable."
It certainly looks that way so far. Not only does Stroud have the third-most passing yards (906) through a player's first three career games in NFL history, but he's the only rookie with 900 pass yards and no interceptions in a three-game span all-time. He just surpassed Patrick Mahomes as the youngest QB ever (Stroud is 21) to do that, too.
I watched all of Stroud's passes so far this season to see what all the rage is about. Here are three takeaways:
1. He anticipates throws
Stroud has made a handful of throws that make me question whether he is a rookie or not. The arm talent is obviously undeniable, or else he wouldn't have been the No. 2 overall pick. The confidence and anticipation to throw his receivers open or make a decision before they come out of their break isn't something I expected to see much from a 21-year old. In his first start he delivered a perfectly timed throw to Nathaniel Dell on third-and-long late in the game. The beauty of it was Stroud released it before Dell even started his break on the comeback route. Dell was completely blanketed by a Ravens defender, yet the rookies connected in the tight window for a first down. Those are big-time throws by anyone, let alone a QB in his first career game. Stroud went through his progressions and delivered a perfect ball here to Robert Woods last week as he just began breaking on his out route.
2. Pocket presence
I was also impressed by Stroud's pocket presence. He hardly ever looked flustered, but quickly scans the defense, displays excellent footwork and makes quick, quality decisions. Give him time and he has been carving up defenses. He ranks third in the league in yards per attempt and EPA per play from inside the pocket when he is not pressured this season. Only Tua Tagovailoa averages more yards per completion in those situations.
|C.J. Stroud Inside Pocket Without Pressure This Season||NFL Rank|
Yards per attempt
Yards per completions
EPA per play
Of course, time will be a luxury he doesn't always have with the Texans offensive line. Laremy Tunsil has missed the last two games and Houston ranks bottom 10 in pressure rate allowed this season. Stroud was sacked 11 times in the first two weeks before the Texans allowed none in Week 3.
3. Third down prowess
Arm talent, anticipation and good decision making have all translated on the NFL's money down, and then some, as Stroud looks poised beyond his years. He ranks top five in the league in completion rate (76.2), yards per attempt (9.5) and EPA per play (0.25) on third down this season. The fact that he's doing this with a bulk of his passes to third-year wideout Nico Collins and rookie Nathaniel Dell is even more impressive.
Another bonus, he leads the NFL in third down completions (20), attempts (27), yards (310) and touchdowns (three) when he throws to the sticks. There's few things more frustrating as a fan than when a QB throws it five yards behind the chains on third down, leaving little chance of a conversion (just ask Vikings fan how their season ended in 2022). That hasn't been Stroud's issue as he's shown high IQ in these situations, one reason he's thriving on third down.
|C.J. Stroud Third Down Throws to the Sticks||NFL Rank|
EPA per play
Stroud isn't just making the right plays on the field, he's saying the right things off it, displaying leadership and confidence heading into a Week 4 showdown with the Steelers. "We're men, you know what I'm saying? We aren't laying down for nobody, and I respect everybody," Stroud said in his Wednesday press conference via ProFootballTalk. "Like, if you made it to the NFL, that's respect, and to play against a franchise that comes from winning — Mike Tomlin hasn't had a losing season, which I have a ton of respect for that guy.
"I got to talk to him during my Pro Day. A great dude, a great man, a great man of God, but they would say the same thing about us if we were the best players in the world, too, where everybody is really good at their job — that's why we're in the NFL. But, you don't tuck your tail for anybody, and you play with a confidence, but at the same time, you stay humble. Definitely, that's my M.O., staying humble but having that swagger [and] that confidence of a killer mindset while staying humble."
Texans' head coach DeMeco Ryans said after Sunday's win that "Sky is the limit for C.J.". I can see why that doesn't actually seem like coachspeak.