The NFL Combine is primarily used to validate what you’ve watched on tape. For quarterbacks, it is a bit trickier than that. How did CJ Stroud fare against his peers last week?
So much of what makes a quarterback great is how he deals with the opposing defense. Whether it be audibles pre-snap, getting through progressions during the drop back, or fitting tight windows downfield… this is impossible to simulate in a workout setting.
CJ Stroud Is A Franchise QB, Quit Overthinking This
Still, CJ Stroud flexed everything that made him special on tape — and more. Multiple people told me Stroud’s throwing performance at the NFL Combine is the best they’ve ever watched. And I have a hard time arguing with that.
Even without defenders hounding his receivers, Stroud displayed an uncanny ability to put the ball where only his pass catcher could get it. From placing it perfectly on the sideline to hitting back shoulder fades and even go-balls, the OSU superstar backed up his tape.
In the media interview segment, Stroud walked up to the podium exuding confidence. The former Buckeye explained how close he was to returning to Columbus to get the Michigan monkey off his back.
Stroud said, “It’s something you can’t just throw in the trash… I don’t feel I did that. Coming to the league, it was a smart decision for me.”
When prompted about his losses to Michigan, Stroud said he believes he’d have two Heisman Trophy’s on his shelf if not for the back-to-back losses to his hated rival. And honestly, he might be right.
Most of the issues with Stroud come from his perceived lack of mobility and unwillingness to use his legs to create off-schedule. While these concerns hold weight and show up on tape, both are overblown.
Several times at Ohio State, Stroud did create with his legs. Some of his best passes in college came as he rolled out and hit his receivers working the sideline. Against Georgia, Stroud took this even further, charging down the field multiple times using a combination of his legs and arm.
Best Fits for CJ Stroud in 2023 NFL Draft
When Stroud lands in the NFL, there will likely be a learning curve, as is the case with most quarterbacks. He must sense pressure better and prevent his footwork from becoming sloppy when bracing for a hit. Part of being a franchise quarterback in the NFL is standing in the pocket, knowing you’re about to take a massive hit.
A scheme that gets the ball out quickly and allows Stroud to accelerate his decision-making is the ideal fit. His accuracy to all three levels is the best in the 2023 NFL Draft, and the touch he exhibits on throws downfield cannot be taught.
Stroud’s arm is plenty strong enough to fit tight windows, and he boasts the leadership quality that teams look for behind center. Every teammate speaks highly of Stroud and his work ethic, serving as more of a “lead by example” type of leader.
There are a few ideal landing spots for Stroud in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Colts own a roster with more talent than the 2022 record indicates. The Texans are in full rebuild mode but already have a steady offensive line.
The Lions offer Stroud a chance to sit behind Jared Goff until ready or to win the job outright during training camp. Detroit is one of the top destinations for any quarterback, with a stacked offensive line and some impressive weapons at the skill positions. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson turned water into wine with Goff in 2022; imagine what he could do with a higher-upside signal-caller.
The Raiders also make sense for Stroud. Las Vegas released Derek Carr after the season and will search far and wide for a replacement. My gut says Josh McDaniels opts for a veteran bridge; perhaps a reunion with Jimmy Garoppolo?
The final team we will highlight here is my favorite fit of the bunch. The Panthers hired Frank Reich and surrounded him with an all-star cast of veteran assistants. Placing Stroud at the center of this retool will give Carolina an immediate chance at the NFC South title.
Stroud would inherit an ascending offensive line, one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL in DJ Moore, and a defense chock-full of talent. The division is winnable, even after the Saints signed Carr, so the Panthers should do whatever it takes to land CJ Stroud.