C.J Stroud is no stranger to challenges. For those who enjoy watching the Elite 11 QB camp every year, CJ Stroud burst onto the scene in 2019 when he entered the camp as the 14th-ranked QB by 247 Sports and ended up winning the MVP of the camp over future Heisman Trophy Winner Bryce Young. After committing to Ohio State, Stroud entered a competition for the starting QB spot and won it, then proceeded to go from 45/1 odds to win the Heisman to being a favorite with 2 weeks to go in the season, there is no doubt that he enjoys being doubted.
With all of that being said, Stroud is no longer an underdog, and calling him one now is feeding a false narrative. Most people have him as their 1st or 2nd QB off of the board already, it is quite common now for him to be the name teams will supposedly want to "tank" for next season. As much as we have been proponents of a pro-Stroud agenda on our Twitter account because we called him for the Heisman last season, this report will be an objective look at his film, what he needs to fix if the problems are fixable at all, and what he needs to succeed this season and when he enters the NFL.
- Touch: The first thing that really jumps out about Stroud is the beautiful touch he is able to put on the football that leads to deadeye accuracy that is rare to see from a college QB. The ability to put such a touch on the pass reminds you of the "drop in the bucket" style pass that Russell Wilson has thrown dozens of times that always leaves commentators and fans in awe. While he is obviously not as consistent with this type of throw, he has the ability to make it, and that alone is eye-catching and could make some scouts drool.
- Going Through Progressions/Reads: As a first-year starter, it is rare to see a QB become as comfortable going through their reads as Stroud did as the season progressed. It was clear in the first few games of the season that he had a learning curve, which is to be expected (he threw a pick in each of the first 3 games while throwing 8 TDs in that span) but he then made noticeable improvements, became more comfortable in the pocket and as a result, threw 15 TDs before his next INT. I cannot stress enough how astoundingly quick he is able to go through his progressions, and in the Michigan State game in particular he left both the safeties and the linebackers in ruins with how many times he looked them off for big plays to Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson down the seams and on the outside. Now there are other factors that play into this, but the long and short of it is that Stroud can read the defense at a professional level and make the correct decision more than any other QB in this class hands-down and I am willing to die on that hill.
- Pre-Snap/Line of Scrimmage: C.J Stroud is already at a professional level when it comes to his ability to read the coverage before the play, call the right audible/hot route and properly equip his offense for the upcoming play. His quiet but confident composure and poise before the snap is a strong attribute to consider when you realize how important pre-snap reads are.
-Ability to Make the Throw While Absorbing Contact: Stroud is not only good at making throws under pressure, he welcomes it and understands that more pressure means more man-to-man coverage for his receivers.
-Pre-Throw Mechanics/Slap: The first problem I noticed with Stroud is that even on some of the touchdown passes he threw this season, he has a windup with the ball in his throwing hand (right). He doesn't keep the ball high and tucked, he is somewhat loose with the ball which lead to 4 fumbles this season. He also has the tendency to slap the ball before making the throw which is a common problem for QBs at a level below the NFL, but it is one that always causes problems at the NFL level if it persists. He will have to be okay with changing where he holds the ball on his dropback, which is frustrating but rewarding.
- Sliding/Running Confidence: Stroud has a good frame at 6'3" and almost 220 lbs, but he looks almost awkward running the football as if he isn't aware of his combination of size and strength with some quickness as well. When he does find open space, it is painful to watch him slide as he tries to navigate his way down. It would do him wonders to work with a baseball player on how to properly slide so that he is able to give himself up in potentially dangerous situations and so he can be more confident running the ball.
- Footwork and Delivery Consistency: It is strange, Stroud will have dozens of throws per game that he delivers with perfect footwork that would make a pro proud, but part of the concern with him is how often he was dealing with a clean pocket and the trouble he faced when he saw immense amounts of pressure, "Happy Feet" is what I like to call it. When there was trouble bearing down on him, I saw quite a few throws off of the back foot that made the ball fall short and a few that he made that sailed because he bent his back while making the throw, these are fixable mistakes but it comes with practice and training those habits away from your game. Leaving them results in a high-risk high-reward style of passer that is becoming less valuable in this league as turnovers margins become scrutinized more.
While I have not done my report on Bryce Young yet, I currently have Stroud as my QB1 in this class based on a number of factors. Firstly, I was in awe of his ability to go through progressions in the blink of an eye, so many QBs have trouble acclimating to the speed of the NFL game, I truly don't think that is where his troubles will be, I think he can read defenses at the NFL level right now, both pre-snap and during the play, he is also the best in the class at looking off safeties and linebackers while going through his reads. Secondly, his continued rise has him poised for a breakout year. He came into the Elite 11 camp as the 14th ranked QB on 247 sports and won the tournament MVP. He was expected to be the 3rd string or backup this season but won the starting job with an amazing performance in the Spring Game and then almost won the Heisman Trophy while adjusting to his first full year under center. This season is really the first time he's coming into the year with role security, a full camp as the starter, and an entire school behind him, I see no reason for regression regardless of who left the offense. Lastly, he's just dead-on accurate. I have no other way to say it, the guy puts the ball in the right spot constantly because he is able to read the defense, square his body to make the throw, and deliver a rocket with the arm strength that he has with his powerful frame. I get that people get more excited for RPO guys who run for 100 yards a game as well as throwing it, but Stroud knows what kind of player he is, and his commitment to his pocket-passer style could be absolutely deadly in an air raid offense. He still has a few kinks in his game to work out, but seeing how quickly he has progressed at every level so far, I am excited to see what this year has in store for him before the 2023 draft and whether or not he can secure that #1 pick spot.
Best Game: Michigan State: (32/35, 432 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT)
Worst Game: Tulsa: (15/25, 185 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)