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C.J. Stroud: Falling?
Will Seahawks get the chance to either draft or pass on Stroud? Seaside Joe 1504
‘Twas the night before March 24th and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…and yet I was still like, “Uh, I don’t really understand why the Houston Texans need to draft a quarterback.”
It’s been over three weeks since I first mentioned that I couldn’t parse together why everybody had automatically linked a quarterback to the Texans with the second overall pick and wondered if maybe the Seattle Seahawks were gleefully taking selfies with Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud because they had intel that one of them could actually be available with a small trade.
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Now within the last week it has become a popular take for members of the national draft media to be openly questioning if the Texans and Stroud are a match made in Houston. I have not yet compiled a complete list of those names and I don’t want to mislabel anyone, but here’s Albert Breer joining the party on Thursday’s episode of The Herd:
This is not a brag that “Seaside Joe had it first!” because I was blindly speculating, that’s nothing to brag about. We don’t even know yet what the Texans are going to do, or the Carolina Panthers for that matter. The Panthers could pick Stroud.
It does make me wonder if almost everybody is blindly speculating though, that they’re still just kind of taking rumors and running with the latest one, and I was probably just one of thousands of people (who aren’t in the national media) who could easily connect the dots as of weeks ago: If you didn’t think that Stroud was worth the number one pick, and if you could imagine Houston punting the quarterback position until they fall in love with somebody else (as Seattle did a year ago), then you don’t need sources; it’s a logical conclusion that wouldn’t necessarily Stump the Schwab.
Adding fuel to the fire that the Texans won’t draft Stroud are two other stories that may or may not be true.
Michael Lombardi has opened up a conversation by reporting that he’s heard that Stroud “is not an easy guy to coach.” It’s important for me to note that if someone reports something that will be a popular take, then people say “he’s plugged in” but if he says something controversial he’s “a clown”. Lombardi’s report could be inconsequential to Stroud’s future, his development, his ceiling, his draft stock…it’s one thing said about a person. It may not matter and Lombardi hedges his report—probably just because he knows there will be blow back—by saying “It’s not a knock”.
(It’s a knock.)
But I don’t believe that Lombardi is lying that he’s heard that. It should be taken with the same amount of credibility as a report that Bryce Young aced the S2 test, that Will Levis is arrogant, and that Jalen Carter doesn’t like to practice.
All that will matter is whether or not we get to draft night and find out that Stroud, projected by many as the number one pick from the day that Carolina traded up to number one to last week when Chris Mortensen went on ESPN and said “not so fast”, is not only available at pick two. But maybe available at pick three, if not pick four. If not pick five.
Again, I’m just a speculator, but as I said recently it wasn’t until the final game of his career that Stroud even became a consensus top-five pick.
The other side of that is there are reports that the Texans are preparing to make important front office changes after the draft with some reporting “that they heard” general manager Nick Caserio will go back to the Patriots. It wouldn’t be the first time that a team parted with a GM and scouting department after a draft—it’s much harder to make those changes before a draft and you just hope they don’t screw you over—but connected Texans writer John McClain says that is not going to happen:
But Lance Zierlein, also plugged into the Texans, has also reported that Houston isn’t deadset on picking a quarterback at the top of the draft. So what does it all mean?
It could mean that the Texans front office is split on what to do and that would mean that if Young goes number one, there are important people in Houston who do not want Stroud. As soon as the season ended, I wrote an article stating why the Texans should bite the bullet and trade with the Bears IMMEDIATELY for the number one pick because I felt Young was the only quarterback worth drafting that high this year:
Houston should not let another team choose their quarterback for them. That’s exactly what will happen if the Texans let the Colts, Seahawks, Lions, or a different team trade over them for a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft.
I still believe that Bryce Young is worth going first overall…
Hesitation has several implications: Disagreement on who to take OR that they liked both prospects OR that they didn’t like either prospect enough.
Many are reporting that Houston does like Young, so that would rule out the third option. If they don’t pick Stroud, then it rules out the second option. That leaves the first option, with someone arguing “Let’s just take Stroud” and someone else saying, “Why did we hesitate? That was stupid.” Maybe they bought that Carolina traded up for Stroud and now it’s hitting them that the Panthers will take Young. Dissension would explain dysfunction.
Which then calls back some other reports, which included Breer a few weeks ago saying that the Indianapolis Colts were talking to the Bears about trading up but hesitated—maybe because they weren’t that sold on anyone yet. Scouts had two years to watch Stroud, Young, and Levis, one year to watch Richardson, why wouldn’t you have been sold on one of them two months ago?
As it were, Ian Rapoport reported on Friday that the Colts are visiting with Stroud today. It’s not the strangest thing in the world, Stroud has met with other teams besides just the Panthers and Texans, but a division rival? Indianapolis has to have some belief that Stroud is not a guaranteed option for Houston if Young goes first overall.
Then it makes me think about how for Carolina to trade up, they had to jump the Texans, Colts, Seahawks, Lions, Raiders, and Falcons. Six teams that could be reasonably linked to quarterback prospects.
Trading up for quarterbacks in the first round is very common now, so it would seem reasonable to ask why the Panthers were able to jump that many teams, especially given the immense draft capital held by Houston, Seattle, and Detroit. The only thing that made it seem reasonable for the Texans was that people were saying that there two, if not three QBs in tier I. But now if Houston doesn’t pick a quarterback…what does that say about tier I?
As I wrote in mid-January, I was not buying that this quarterback class is necessarily as gifted and unique as the media was selling. It could just be that people are thirsty for QB draft content following 2022’s underwhelming class with only one picked in the top-70.
Before Ohio State-Georgia: “C.J. Stroud is a good, not great prospect.”
After Ohio State-Georgia: “C.J. Stroud should go first overall.”
Maybe if the NFL Draft was held the day after the Super Bowl, that would matter. But then you give teams almost four full months to go back and watch every game of Stroud’s career and it just might end up with some of them getting tired of re-watching the Georgia game to get their hopes up only to keep falling back on the many examples of Stroud struggling under pressure, struggling off-structure, and benefiting from an NFL offensive line with NFL receivers against college defenses.
There are teams that would still use an early pick on Jared Goff even if they knew they were getting Jared Goff. But it’s a matter of preference, not a matter of transcendence like it is with Bryce Young. Then if you weigh that against the possibilities with Anthony Richardson, I would bet that there actually are teams that would rather take a gamble on the Florida quarterback than the Ohio State quarterback.
Sharp Football Analysis posted some key accuracy stats for the top-four quarterbacks this year and found that Stroud’s on-target percentage for throws in the 1-10 yard range was a weakness, ranking 54th in the country and that this is a common theme for Ohio State QBs. But all four have things to work on, with Richardson and Will Levis being extreme outliers if they are first round picks:
Stroud’s top concern is the short accuracy, which has been a thing for Ohio State quarterbacks. Ohio State quarterbacks routinely have the highest rates of passing attempts past the line of scrimmage, so they’re not often helped out with screens. That can make those shorter throws more difficult. Stroud was 54th in on-target rate among college quarterbacks on short throws outside the numbers, per SIS.
Young works the short and intermediate levels of the field — much better than the typical shorter quarterbacks — but his deep accuracy was not as strong. However, Young lived in the intermediate area (25% of throws) and did not throw deep all that often (11.6%). When Young’s deep passes were on target, they were often completed.
Richardson and Levis would be two of the least accurate passers selected in the first round over the past few seasons.
Another breakdown of the four QBs that I recommend comes from SportsInfoSolutions, as they found that Richardson (52nd) and Levis (55th) both ranked outside the top-50 in EPA/pass, that Stroud got the second-most help from receivers as any QB in the country (Young 11th, Levis 16th, Richardson 26th), that Richardson and Levis actually had top-20 offensive lines (Stroud ranked 54th, Young’s pass blockers ranked 76th), and that Richardson had the highest-rate of play-action passes in the country.
QBs are most often helped out by play-action, RPO, and designed rollouts and this is how the top-four QBs ranked in those plays:
We should expect that their NFL teams will attempt to design plays that these respective QBs will be comfortable with, so Richardson may just continue to get a ton of play action passes and designed rollouts, but will Stroud’s offensive coordinator have much ability to be creative? SIS called it “simpler reads” in the Ohio State offense:
Stroud has benefited from the simpler reads that come from designed rollouts, ranking in the top 10 in Independent Quarterback Rating each of the last two years on those plays. He’s not the same athlete as Richardson, so the threat to the defense isn’t the same, but it’s something that the team that drafts him probably would like to integrate.
As you’re already aware of, Anthony Richardson is the prospect who had the worst college career, while Stroud is coming off of the best season and final game. But draft decisions will be based on what teams think you can do, not necessarily what you did.
The Texans might literally have a worse receiving corps right now than what C.J. Stroud was throwing to in 2021 and 2022. Houston should have a good offensive line (and I won’t say that just because Bobby Slowik worked for Kyle Shanahan that they have a good offensive coordinator, as we’ve seen plenty of coaches get promotions and disappoint) but if they pick a quarterback he will almost certainly be at a disadvantage compared to his peers and that’s the number one reason I haven’t been sold on the idea that they’re going to draft a guy just to immediately screw him over.
If the Texans just draft the best player, they won’t be picking Stroud.
There’s also a belief close to the 99-percent range that the Arizona Cardinals are going to trade down and it’s just a matter of picking the best offer once they are on the clock. Let’s say that the Panthers pick Young, the Texans pick Jalen Carter, and then the Cardinals trade down to a team that wants a quarterback—I buy that.
Lately, teams have generally traded up (and overspent) for quarterbacks, so the third overall pick seems like a perfect place to do that. It could be that the Colts then feel like they can’t lose their opportunity to get a player (who isn’t Anthony Richardson, because I don’t feel like he makes sense for Jim Irsay’s history) and trade up with the Cardinals OR that a team trades up for Richardson because they want to take the bigger gamble instead of shooting for the middle.
In some top-five scenarios recently, I had the Raiders trading up for Stroud. It could be that Las Vegas trades up for Richardson (or the Falcons do), and then Indianapolis picks Stroud. It could be that Indianapolis picks Will Levis. It could be that Stroud, not Richardson or Levis, is actually the quarterback who falls to—and maybe past—the Seattle Seahawks.
Should the Seahawks pick C.J. Stroud if he’s available?
I’m probably the wrong narrator to answer that question because obviously I have not been blown away by Stroud. That should not even weigh into the decision or whether you should believe that he is or isn’t a good pick. Oftentimes, the QB we think is good is bad, the QB we think is bad is good.
I think Stroud is fine and if I knew that the Seahawks could draft Jared Goff if they had the opportunity to do that…I wouldn’t recommend it. But when you examine the risk and reward to picking a quarterback that early and the support structure in place that will keep Stroud in waiting until 2024, I couldn’t criticize the decision to take a rare opportunity.
But I do think that under those circumstances, you’re also passing on the chance to take a defensive player who will have much greater odds of improving the team and addressing Seattle’s biggest issue over the last four or five years. Mediocre defense.
This also, admittedly, feels like the arguments that teams and fans made when we look back at drafts and ask, “How did Aaron Rodgers go there?” “How did Patrick Mahomes get past them?” “How come Josh Allen was the third QB off the board?”
It’s not to say that the Seahawks are passing on Mahomes anymore than it is to say that they’re passing on Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, or Josh Rosen.
However, do I think Seattle will get the chance to draft or pass one or two of the top QB prospects in the draft, including C.J. Stroud? I’ve thought that the entire time.
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