Few NFL players have ever had a better rookie season than the one Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud put together. The recently crowned Offensive Rookie of the Year completed 63.9% of his passes at an average of 8.2 yards per attempt, with 23 touchdowns against just five interceptions across his 15 games, leading the Texans to a 9-6 record in his starts, along with an AFC South title. He led the NFL in passing yards per game and was among the league leaders in more advanced measurements of quarterback performance as well.
After a season like that, it’s hard not to start thinking about exactly where Stroud stands in the league hierarchy. Yes, already. It’s not too soon. And Stroud himself thinks he’s right in the mix as a top five passer.
“Yes, sir. I do. I think I put it on film,” Stroud said during a CBS Sports Radio appearance at the Super Bowl. “I think my numbers speak for itself. Especially missing two games. If I didn’t miss two games, my numbers would have been just as good or one of the best in the league. And I think you can see the impact I had on my team. I’m not in the business of like, arguing, ‘I’m top five. I’m not.’ I really don’t care. I mean, I just want to win.”
As for who else would join him in that top five, Stroud had three players definitely in there: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson. Joe Burrow, because he didn’t play enough during the 2023 season, didn’t make Stroud’s cut. The final spot would go to either Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts. Notably, second-place MVP finisher Dak Prescott and NFC champion quarterback Brock Purdy went unmentioned. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Stroud also had some kind words to say about 2023 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, whose season was not nearly as successful as Stroud’s own. The Panthers were the worst team in the NFL in 2023, and Young often looked overwhelmed and outmatched by opposing defenses. But Stroud feels there was a good explanation for that.
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“I feel like a lot of stuff didn’t go his way that was out of his control,” Stroud said, per The 33rd Team. “You can’t make a play if somebody don’t block. You can’t make a play if somebody don’t catch the ball. And when you watch the tape, Bryce did a lot of great things. He’s gonna be a great player, but it takes time. I came into a situation where we were struggling, I know, but we still had a lot of great pieces. And Nick Caserio, our GM, brought in a lot of good vets. DeMeco [Ryans] was the perfect coach for our type of team.”
The Panthers certainly had a porous offensive line. And after trading D.J. Moore as part of the deal to move up and select young, they had a depleted pass-catching corps as well. And head coach Frank Reich didn’t even last his first full season on the job. So, it’s easy to see why Stroud thinks Young was put in a bad spot. But he also thinks Young will improve as time goes on.
“I think everybody’s path is different. So, maybe I had a good rookie year, and Bryce is gonna have a great second year. And hopefully I do, too,” Stroud said. “But I know everything is gonna be fine for him. I told him. ‘You the one. You the one for a reason.’ And he’s not going to, but, ‘Don’t ever look at yourself different, bro. Like ever.'”
A bad rookie season doesn’t necessarily mean a player will be bad forever. We’ve seen plenty of quarterbacks who eventually became good or great, struggle during their debut campaign. But Young had a bunch of ground to make up to get back to the player people thought he could be, and now, to catch up to where Stroud is, as well.