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Why C.J. Stroud Is 2023 NFL Draft’s Top QB Prospect Entering College Season

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Alabama’s Bryce Young could be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is actually college football’s best quarterback prospect for the 2023 NFL draft.

History has showed that collegiate hardware doesn’t automatically mean future success. It’s happened generally lately, however the likes of Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Baker Mayfield (up to now) didn’t translate to the professional game and serve as warnings.

This is not to state that Young is not a quality prospect. But he can’t automatically be pushed above almost every other quarterback on draft boards predicated on what he’s done within the nation’s most successful football program.

Just the truth that Stroud and Young are even yet in the first conversation as top draft selections is an excellent change of pace following this year’s band of signal-callers could be kindly referred to as the worst of the century.

“It had been an extremely, really weak class,” an AFC personnel executive told Heavy’s Matt Lombardo. “Everyone knew everything along, but everyone tried to market those guys to one another.”

Consequently, some franchises in desperate need of an infusion of talent under center punted on the positioning having an eye toward next April. This may benefit the complete class. Kentucky’s Will Levis, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Stanford’s Tanner McKee should all maintain the first-round mix aswell.

But Stroud should lead just how because the true premium talent without. 1 overall potential.

Ultimately, the conversation will hinge on Young vs. Stroud because they’re both most high-profile prospects playing for illustrious pipeline programs. They finished first and fourth, respectively, in Heisman voting this past year. Their situations are actually flipped slightly, with Stroud entering this year because the betting favorite for the award.

Stroud’s physical tools, expertise, production and growth potential place him atop this year’s crop.

Stroud’s and Young’s physical statures are all the time and can likely end up being the largest difference within their evaluations. The former is 6’3″ and 218 pounds, as the latter is 6’0″ and 194 pounds.

The 2021 Heisman Trophy finalistsfrom left to right: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Young’s height is less of a concern that it was previously. In the end, offenses operate from the shotgun regularly, and shorter options have succeeded in the league lately.

However, Young’s slight frame is a major concern with regards to taking an NFL pounding. Jim McMahon (6’1″, 195 lbs) in 1982 may be the last first-round quarterback during the last 40 years to weigh less than 200 pounds. Guys like Mayfield (6’1″, 215 lbs), Kyler Murray (5’10”, 207 lbs) and Russell Wilson (5’11”, 215 lbs) are shorter quarterbacks, but they’re thickly built. They are able to create significant torque within their lower bodies and hips because of the squatty frames.

Prototypical NFL size standards aside, Stroud layers throws to all or any three levels. The 20-year-old passer is specially adept when he drives the ball down the field. His pure arm strength might not reach Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes levels, but he is highly recommended on the list of next tier.

Deep passing can be a byproduct of timing and touch. In accordance with Pro Football Focus, Stroud was college football’s most accurate deep passer entering bowl season. The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the entire year then dumped 573 yards and six touchdowns in a victory on the Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl.

It is important to make the distinction between those two points to guarantee the number wasn’t skewed due to that historic performance.

“I say with C.J., he really drops the ball within. The easiest method to put it really is like Russell Wilson,” former teammate and first-round wide receiver Garrett Wilson told the Big Ten Network this past year (h/t The Lantern‘s Jacob Benge).

PFF also graded Stroud because the best Big Ten quarterback last season with a 67.6 percent accurate pass rate.

NFL evaluators will begin to salivate over a quarterback who navigates the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield and consistently delivers the football with a smooth, compact delivery.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Young is not a slouch either. He’s got an excellent feel for the overall game with excellent touch within the scheme and creativity beyond structure. But his stature will stay a sticking point.

Levis, meanwhile, brings the very best mix of size (6’3″, 232 lbs) and raw arm talent, in addition to 2 yrs of learning under current or former NFL offensive coordinators at Kentucky in Liam Coen and Rich Scangarello. Van Dyke lit up the next 1 / 2 of last season. He must repeat that performance over a complete campaign. Richardson is really a raw mound of elite athletic traits. Finally, McKee is really a 6’6″ pro-style quarterback appearing out of Stanford, and he must help this program rise from the malaise of the final three seasons.

To take the next phase, Stroud merely needs to build on which he’s already done. Last season, the Ohio State starter became the only real quarterback at the FBS level to complete top-five in completion percentage (71.9), passing yardage (4,435), passing touchdowns (44), yards per attempt (10.1) and quarterback rating (186.6).

Anything near or exceeding those numbers will cement Stroud’s status as not merely the very best quarterback prospect but additionally the best candidate for the initial overall pick (yes, even over Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. due to positional value).

The third-year signal-caller knows he must improve using areas, particularly in leading the offense and learning to be a louder voice in the locker room.

“He’s speaking up. He’s older. He really wants to win,” wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba told reporters. “You understand, we’re all thrilled. He’s a competitor, no one really wants to win a lot more than him, and he really wants to bring that to the complete team and spread it out.”

Head coach Ryan Day added: “I believe that C.J. has really grown when it comes to his leadership this season, and just includes a much more, you understand, wide perspective on everything thats going on, not only his job. He sees it almost as a coach at this time. I understand his No. 1 thing is he really wants to win, and the rest is secondary. And hes practiced this way.”

An improved knowledge of and an elevated comfortability within the offense should increase Stroud’s process. Like the majority of young quarterbacks, the one-year starter could possibly be quicker to obtain off his first read and work his way through his progression to the stage where it becomes a lot more natural in how he sees the field.

The Buckeyes’ current setup offers a significant task, with Stroud having to grow mentally within the scheme while dealing with more responsibility with a reworked supporting cast. He could be now the center point of the offense. Everything flows through him and how he distributes the ball.

Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba with a touchdown reception through the Buckeyes’ 48-45 Rose Bowl victory on the Utah Utes. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Ohio State remains extremely talented at receiver with Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka. However the group isn’t nearly as experienced because the one from this past year, when two first roundersWilson and Chris Olaveflanked the formation. Essentially, the roles reversed, with Stroud set to create his targets into top-end prospects.

Stroud fits the prototype of a specialist quarterback. His traits as a passer are evident. He’s playing at the best level possible and producing against top competition. He’s got ample possibility to build an already impressive resume. Maybe Stroud will capture their own Heisman Trophy.

In any event, this year should serve because the coronation of Stroud because the nation’s best quarterback and top option in 2023 even though he doesn’t leave with 45 pounds of Ed Smith-shaped cast bronze.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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