It is well known that quarterback is the toughest position for anyone in sports. They are responsible for guiding the offense every game and must know where all 21 other positions are for each down. Their decisions on each play dictate the flow of the offense, and they have to make them with opponents looking to hit them every play. With how steep these requirements are, it is understandable that some rookie quarterbacks initially experience some growing pains.
However, there does come a quarterback like Dan Marino or Justin Herbert who already proceeds to look like a polished veteran. Fourteen weeks into the season, CJ Stroud of the Houston Texans has been on that same trajectory. Once seen as a rebuilding team, the Texans are in the heat of the race of an AFC wild card spot, and Stroud is a major reason why. With the individual and team success Stroud has enjoyed, it is worth evaluating where his year stands with some of the other great seasons by rookie quarterbacks.
From a statistical perspective, there's not one statistic where Stroud doesn't look impressive. While he is fresh off his worst outing against the Jets, he's thrown for 3,651 yards and 20 touchdowns. Stroud might not be able to shatter Herbert's rookie record of 31 touchdown passes, but he is likely to set a new mark for most passing yards by a rookie with Andrew Luck's 4,374 yards standing in his way. Needing only 723 yards, it's a safe bet Stroud will shatter that record even if he stays in concussion protocol following a head injury he suffered last week. As if that's not impressive enough, Stroud is leading the league in passing yards while managing to protect the football, throwing just five interceptions.
Another important factor that should be talked about in discussing quarterback's rookie seasons is their role in the offense. There are a few rookie QBs who might have had a good year and won games, but that was more because of a great defense or a run first offense. A great example of this is Ben Roethlisberger, who won every regular season game his rookie year but played on a team that ranked last in pass attempts and second in rushing attempts.
Meanwhile, the Texans have asked Stroud to do a lot more, with their rushing attack ranking in the bottom tier for most statistical categories. Their offense may not be in the top tier in pass attempts, but any football fan would know that Houston's offense revolving around Stroud. It's also not like the Texans are having him throwing these short passes in fear of possibly turning the ball over and losing his confidence. They fully trust Stroud to lead them down the field, which is evident in his 8.5 yards per completion.
Head coach DeMeco Ryans, who also deserves credit for Houston's turnaround, re-iterated this notion of the team's faith in Stroud following his first comeback win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I think trust is earned and C.J. has earned that trust by showing it on the practice field, proving it to his teammates, and you build that trust over time," Ryans said. "C.J. has built that trust amongst his teammates, amongst the coaching staff that we can put a little bit more on him.”
That game particularly shows you all you need to know about Stroud. On the winning pass, he reads the safety Dee Delaney the entire play. When Delaney commits to receiver Noah Brown, Stroud zips the pass down the middle to fellow rookie receiver Tank Dell for the win.
Then there's the fact that Stroud has helped engineer one of the league's best turnarounds this season. Before the arrivals of Stroud and Ryans, the Texans had won a combined 11 games in three seasons. Now the Texans have been reeling off one signature win after another with some of Stroud's performances. In my opinion, Stroud's season is reminiscent of Andrew Luck in 2012 where he turned the Colts from a bottom dweller to a playoff team overnight.
Robert Griffin III, the guy who actually who actually won the award over Luck, wasn't shy to shower Stroud with praise four weeks into the season.
"CJ Stroud isn't just the Texans' franchise quarterback," Griffin said. "He's a top ten QB in the league already."
In addition, Stroud is elevating the players around him. Nico Collins has went from a seldom used receiver to a reliable number one option who already topped 1,000 receiving yards. Dell also formed a potent rookie connection with Stroud although that will unfortunately be put on hold after Dell suffered a fractured fibula in last week's win over Denver.
The Texans are currently just outside of a wild card spot with their week two loss to the Colts being the difference. Despite a blowout loss to the Jets, most of the other teams ahead of them didn't gain much ground. Houston also has a soft schedule before getting another crack against the Colts in the final week. If Stroud clears concussion protocol, there is a good chance Houston sneaks into the playoffs. When the playoffs begin, we might be giving even more praise to Stroud's season.
Note: Majority of this article was written before Stroud's head injury against the Jets.