NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2022. This is the third entry in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout July.
There were big shoes to fill at Ohio State heading into last season after quarterback Justin Fields moved on to the NFL. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, then-redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud won the starting job in fall camp and fought through an early season shoulder injury to produce an exceptional first year as the QB1.
He led the nation's top-ranked offense (in both yards and scoring) and third-ranked passing offense while setting 17 school records on his way to earning Heisman Trophy finalist honors. Stroud finished the season ranked among the top three QBs in passer efficiency (second; 186.56), touchdown passes (third; 44), completion percentage (third; 71.9), passing yards per game (third; 369.58) and yards per pass attempt (second; 10.06).
The numbers pop off the page, obviously, but what does the film say about the much-hyped passer's pro prospects heading into the 2022 college football season? After watching three of Stroud's game tapes from the 2021 season, here is my initial scouting report on the Ohio State quarterback ...
Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds (school measurements).
2021 statistics (12 games played): 317-of-441 (71.9%) for 4,435 yards, 44 TDs and 6 INTs; 32 carries for -20 yards (-0.6 average).
Game tape watched: vs. Penn State (Oct. 30, 2021), vs. Michigan State (Nov. 20, 2021), vs. Utah (Rose Bowl; Jan. 1, 2022).
What I liked: Stroud has a nice blend of size, production and poise. He throws from a firm platform and doesn't have much wasted motion in his delivery. He's at his best pushing the ball down the field. Stroud has a deft feel on fades and over-the-top throws. He can change trajectory when needed and drop the ball right over the outside shoulder of the receiver. I was impressed with his decision-making and poise on key downs and under pressure. He will take a sack when necessary instead of trying to play hero ball. I love the grit and toughness he displayed in the Rose Bowl. He led the Buckeyes to an epic comeback win against a talented Utah defense. He never seemed rattled, which is impressive for a first-year starter at the position.
Where he needs to improve: Stroud isn't an elite athlete and doesn't play with much creativity. He is at his best executing the play as it's designed on paper. I love the deep-ball touch and accuracy, but he can improve his ball placement on intermediate drive throws. He doesn't have a power arm, but he makes up for it with anticipation. I'd love to see him add some twitch to his game, but we've seen quarterbacks with similar traits have success at the next level. He doesn't need to tweak much mechanically. His footwork and alignment are in good shape.
Biggest takeaway: Ohio State quarterback prospects are very difficult to evaluate. The offensive scheme is effective, the line play is solid and the wideouts are spectacular. Those circumstances don't provide a ton of tight-window opportunities for the passer. I know the NFL track record of Buckeye quarterbacks hasn't been stellar, but I believe you need to evaluate every player on an individual basis. I do think Stroud has a strong skill set and I've been told his intangibles are outstanding. He loves football and has a very sharp mind for the game.
He reminds me of: I see a lot of similarities to Mac Jones. Both guys see the field well, make good decisions and take what the defense gives them. They protect the football and understand how to manage the game. Neither player has outstanding arm strength or athleticism but both have excellent touch on the deep ball. Jones surprised a lot of evaluators with his success as a rookie and I could see a similar outcome in Stroud's future.
I can't wait to watch him play: It doesn't get much bigger than Notre Dame-Ohio State on Sept. 3 as the college football season kicks off. The Irish have a stacked roster, including one of the top pass-rushing prospects in the country in Isaiah Foskey. This will be must-see TV and Stroud can use this stage to show NFL evaluators how he's improved since last season. Both of these teams have College Football Playoff aspirations and this game will serve as a launching pad for the winner. It can't get here fast enough!