The top of the quarterback depth chart in the 2023 NFL Draft is largely believed to be a two-horse race. While there are other prospects in contention to be picked early in the first round, the question of top quarterback basically comes down to Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young.
The New York Giants may draft a quarterback this year, but it won’t be Stroud. However, there’s already been plenty of intrigue at the top of the draft as the Carolina Panthers traded up for the first overall pick with the Chicago Bears.
Stroud might be the safer pick at the top of the draft — but is he the guy the Panthers moved up for?
Prospect: C.J. Stroud (7)
Games Watched: vs. Penn State (2021), vs. Notre Dame (2022), vs. Michigan (2022), vs. Georgia (2022 College Football Playoffs)
Games Played: 25
Completions (rate): 575 (69.3 percent)
Yards (YPA): 8,123 (9.8 per attempt)
Games Played: 13
Completions (rate): 258 (66.3 percent)
Yards (YPA): 3,688 (9.5 per attempt)
Best: Accuracy, precision, mechanics, arm strength, decision making
Worst: Situational awareness
Projection: A good starting quarterback early in his career, with Pro Bowl upside.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud has an excellent combination of accuracy, precision, arm talent, and football intelligence to be a good starter at the NFL level.
Stroud’s calling card is his ability as a passer. He has very good arm strength, crisp footwork, and efficient mechanics. Stroud typically keeps his upper and lower halves in sync, is easily able to generate power from the ground up, and drive the ball to all areas of the field. He is also able to generate enough torque through his core to complete most throws while off-platform or on the move.
Stroud is a very accurate passer who consistently throws in rhythm, on time, and with good timing, touch, and anticipation.
He also has a very high football IQ, and knows how to employ his arm talent. Stroud does a very good job of throwing with precision and placing the ball exactly where it needs to be. He consistently places the ball to minimize the defense’s ability to make a play on it, as well as leading his receivers to yards after the catch. He doesn’t force his receivers to contort awkwardly or turn against the direction of the play. That allows them to catch the ball in stride and run away from defenders.
He’s shown good development in his two years as Ohio State’s starter. In particular, he’s improved his throwing motion to minimize the pronounced “loop” that preceded his passes in 2021. He’s also become a more patient quarterback and more understanding of when to take heat off his passes and throw with touch.
And while Stroud is a very efficient passer who does a good job of minimizing the risk of turnover, he isn’t an overly cautious one. He is willing to hang in the pocket in the face of pressure to give his receivers time to get open, as well as challenge coverages to make big plays in the intermediate area of the field.
Stroud is a good – if not great – athlete for the quarterback position. He is able to scramble and extend plays, throw while off-platform, pull the ball down and run, and even execute read-option plays.
There are very few true weaknesses in Stroud’s game, and most of them come down to the fact that he has just two years of experience as a major college starter. Stroud has solid size at the position at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and enough athleticism to navigate the pocket, evacuate and scramble, and run the ball if necessary.
The biggest of these is an occasional lack of situational awareness when the pressure mounts. Stroud can get caught playing through a straw while waiting for routes to come open down the field and not realize his pocket has collapsed.
Likewise, he can also fail to recognize when defenders who first appeared to be pass rushers have dropped into coverage. He can also have a slight tendency to trust his arm and receivers too much and make ill-advised passes. In either case, Stroud can throw to players who are double (or triple) covered, resulting in him uncharacteristically putting the ball at risk of interception.
He still needs to work on consistently layering the ball between defenders down the field, as well as using his eyes to manipulate coverage players. Stroud doesn’t stare his receivers down, but he also doesn’t make a concerted effort to use his own body language to open up coverage.
Most other complaints regarding his game are more nits to be picked, such as him having a slightly lean build and lacking “prototypical” size, or overpowering arm strength and athleticism.
Overall Grade: 8.9
C.J. Stroud projects as a starting quarterback at the NFL level, with the upside to be a Pro Bowler and Franchise player.
Stroud lands just outside of “elite” in a few physical measurements, and he might not boast electric athleticism that shines in workouts. However, he is an excellent pure passer who can dissect defenses from behind the line of scrimmage. Unlike many college prospects, Stroud comes into the pros with experience executing “NFL” throws. He consistently beat opposing defenses with precisely placed deep-out routes or with anticipation throws. He can drive the ball with touch and accuracy to all areas of the field, and excels at precision placement to minimize risk and maximize yards after the catch.
He has plenty of athleticism to hurt defenses that don’t respect him, extend plays, and even execute the occasional read-option or designed quarterback run. However, his ability as a passer to all areas of the field should make his running ability a secondary trait.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Stroud is also his biggest weakness: He can still improve the mental aspect of his game. Stroud can get tunnel vision in high-leverage situations, as well as lose track of defenders on more exotic blitz schemes. That should, hopefully, improve with experience and coaching at the next level.
Stroud could well be the first player off the board, and is an easy player for a GM and Head Coach to argue should be the face of their franchise.