The NFL Draft Case of CJ Stroud: The fresh face of the franchise in Carolina

While the idea may be debatable, the NFL Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. It’s why each year, come draft season, Quarterbacks get over-valued and pushed up the draft board. These kids are expected to be the face of the franchise. The jersey everyone wants in the team shop. A true star that can be marketed to the moon for the machine that is the NFL. Since the 1990 NFL draft, a Quarterback has been taken number 1 overall in 20 out of the 32 drafts. Out of these 20, there are Super Bowl winners like Peyton and Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford and Pro Bowlers like Andrew Luck, Michael Vick and Carson Palmer. There are also some all-time Quarterback busts that have been selected number one in JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch and David Carr. The minute the Chicago Bears fleeced the Carolina Panthers for the first pick, it was clear that the Panthers would be drafting the 21st Quarterback since 1990.

While draft experts will spend countless hours arguing over which Quarterback deserves to be selected by the Panthers, the choice is fairly simple. The pick should be CJ Stroud. This is not to say that CJ Stroud will be the best quarterback out of this draft or that he is a future Hall of Famer. The idea is to say that the Ohio State Quarterback is the least likely to be a full on draft bust. Each of the other Quarterbacks at the top portion of the draft have a flaw that should make the Panthers pick easy. Let’s take a look at each one.

Bryce Young is a former Heisman trophy winner and had an incredible amount of success at Alabama. His talent jumps off the tape. He’s also measured in at 5’10 and 204 pounds at the NFL Combine. He did suffer some injuries at Alabama that should give general managers durability concerns. Anthony Richardson from Florida is a physical marvel and has the elite athletic ability to play in the NFL. Florida was 6-6 in games he started as a Junior and he completed only 53.8% of his passes, a huge red flag for NFL teams. Kentucky’s Will Levis has the 6’3 size that NFL franchise covet and the production at the college level that showcases his individual talent, but against the top teams in the SEC, he came up short and failed to elevate those around him when the game was on the line. Let’s be clear, all three of these quarterbacks could be better than CJ Stroud. It’s the draft outlook that in principle that Stroud has less red flags than his counterparts.

Bryce Young against Tennessee

Starting at Ohio State

Go back to the late summer of 2021. Justin Fields had just left Ohio State and the question coming out of Columbus was how productive could CJ Stroud be in Ryan Day’s offense? Stroud was a four-star prospect of out Rancho Cucamonga. In his first five games as the starter at Ohio State, Stroud threw 18 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. After the opening game at Minnesota, Stroud never completed less than 60% of his passes. His performance with Jaxon Smith-Njigba at the Rose Bowl vs Utah is the stuff of legends. He completed 80% of his passes for 573 yards and 6 touchdowns. Stroud showed off the ability to be accurate with the football as well as having the arm talent to make all types of NFL throws around the field. But many people will discount the 2021 season for Stroud. Critics will point out that he had always at least three first round wide receivers on the field with him. And he didn’t win the game that matters most to Buckeye fans. He didn’t win in Ann Arbor.

Facing that School Up North

Ohio State players are primarily judged on a few different factors during their tenure at Ohio State. The most important factor for every Buckeye is if you beat the hated rival Wolverines. On November 27th in 2021, most fans will be able to tell you that the Buckeyes suffered their first loss in a long time in Ann Arbor. Some fans will even tell you how it was a cold grey early winter afternoon there with the rain and snow blowing. This would lead most people to believe that Stroud played poorly against an extremely talented Wolverine defense. That was not the case. Stroud threw for almost 400 yards and 2 touchdowns, while completing almost 70% of his passes in these elements. The same type of elements seen around the National Football League every winter. Even in a loss, Stroud was able to showcase his talents against a sound defense where weather could easily be a factor. This tape should be one of the first viewed by all scouts when examining CJ Stroud’s career.

CJ Stroud in the snow in Ann Arbor

When all eyes are on you…

There are a lot of quarterbacks that have great rookie years but slump during their sophomore campaigns due to defensive coordinators having tape on the quarterback to gameplan against their strengthens. The same could be said about CJ Stroud in 2022. He was no longer the quarterback at Ohio State replacing Justin Fields. He was a legit Heisman contender and the leader of a team with the goals of a National Title. During the season, Stroud would face three defenses that allowed less than 200 yards passing a game: Iowa (173.8 yards), Notre Dame (190 yards) and Michigan (191.8 yards). To open the season, Stroud put up a 70.6%/223 yards/2 TD stat line against the Fighting Irish. Against the Hawkeyes, He threw for four touchdowns, 286 yards at 66.7%. And in the final game of the regular season against Michigan, it was 64.6% for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns. Penn State had a future first round cornerback this year in Joey Porter Jr in it’s secondary. Stroud completed 78.8% of his passes for 354 yards against the Nittany Lions. And then there was the five-touchdown performance against the Wisconsin Badgers. Each of these teams had the ability to design a defense to limit Stroud, but had no success. Stroud’s college production is not just stuffing the stats against Youngstown St. or Mercer. Stroud consistently performed against the best that the Big 10 had to offer. And while most will agree that the stat line is impressive, people down south will make the statement that it was not against the SEC.

A Peach of a Career

For the past two years, the University of Georgia has been the standard for defense throughout the country. They have been dominant in their suffocation of offenses throughout the country. The defense in Athens is strong, fast and mean. In the eyes of the Bulldogs and many fans throughout the country, Ohio State and CJ Stroud was in a rude wake up call when they traveled to Atlanta to play the Peach Bowl. Georgia boasted a secondary with players like Christopher Smith, Kelee Ringo and Malaki Starks. These were elite playmakers in the secondary. And that New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, CJ Stroud gave the Bulldogs everything they could handle. Stroud put on a true display of excellence by completing 67.6% of his passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. In context against the same defense, Will Levis completed 66% of his passed for 1 touchdown on 206 yards and Anthony Richardson was abysmal at 49% passing for 271 yards and a touchdown. While the Buckeyes lost as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, that loss did not fall on the shoulders of CJ Stroud. His performance against arguably the best defense in the last two years in the country is what will impress general managers.

CJ Stroud had the best performance of any quarterback against the Georgia Defense

With the first overall pick

CJ Stroud should be the first pick in the NFL Draft. The measurables and skill set matches the play that has been seen on the field. The Panthers should know that Stroud can handle the pressure of being an NFL Quarterback. His intelligence and natural talent should make him an early candidate to be the Week 1 starter in Charlotte. And while Stroud is not in the same category as Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck as a “can’t miss” prospect, he’s still an extremely talented quarterback that should help the Carolina Panthers move in the right direction. If the Panthers can build around his talent and protect him, it would not be shocking to see them as the best team in the NFC South within the next three seasons.

About SHappel

Hosts The Irrational Confidence Podcast with Fresh.

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