C.J. Stroud already looks like "the guy" for the Houston Texans

2RXJG4C Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

It's hard to do worse than winning at a .230 clip in a three-year span. And, understandably, no NFL team topped the Houston Texans — an 11-38-1 record overall — in that department from 2020 to 2022.

Things needed to be different in 2023. Houston hired then-San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator and former team star DeMeco Ryans to be its new head coach, as well as former PFF analyst Bobby Slowik as the offensive coordinator. The last piece of the puzzle was a quarterback.

With the second pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Texans opted for quarterback C.J. Stroud out of Ohio State. He put up some big numbers in college, including passing grades of 91.5 and 89.2 in his two years as a starter. He saved one of his best performances for last, as his final start came in the College Football Playoff, where he torched the eventual champion Georgia Bulldogs for 351 yards, four touchdowns and a 91.9 passing grade, the second-highest single-game grade of his career (best was a 93.4 against Michigan State in 2021).

Read more: C.J. Stroud vs. Georgia — the film that solidified his draft status

But Stroud’s NFL debut against the Baltimore Ravens left a lot to be desired. He completed 32 of his 49 passes for 270 yards and no scores, making one turnover-worthy play and earning a 55.6 passing grade. Baltimore's defense harassed him early and often, generating pressure against a makeshift offensive line due to injuries. The Ravens got home on a whopping 29 dropbacks — nearly half — for five sacks and seven quarterback hits.

Things weren’t much better for Stroud in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts, but his passing performance improved. While he was pressured 19 times, including six sacks, Stroud seemed unfazed. He once again completed 32 passes on 49 attempts, but this time for 414 yards, two touchdowns, a big-time throw and a 64.4 passing grade The Texans lost, but Stroud seemed to be getting more comfortable in the NFL.

And then he faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3. Everything seemed to click for Stroud. He completed 20 of his 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with a big-time throw and a very strong 80.5 passing grade. Despite an injury-decimated offensive line, Stroud was mostly free from pressure, as the Jaguars pressured him only nine times and failed to record a sack. His 84.3 overall PFF game grade was the fourth-highest mark among quarterbacks in Week 3.

Highest-Graded QBs | Week 3, 2023
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Stroud has been allowed to air it out often to begin his career, as his 147 dropbacks ranks second only to Kirk Cousins, and his 964 passing yards are the third most ever in a rookie quarterback’s first three starts, trailing only Cam Newton and Justin Herbert. Stroud’s 128 pass attempts without an interception is also a record for a quarterback’s first three games, though he has made four turnover-worthy plays to only two big-time throws.

While Stroud hasn’t had a chance to truly showcase it yet in the NFL, he also appears to have the “clutch gene.” On third and fourth downs, he is 39-of-51 for 478 yards and three touchdowns with a 124.5 passer rating and an 80.9 passing grade while converting 24 first downs. Against the Jaguars, he went 7-of-11 for 118 yards and two touchdowns in such situations, also recording a 139.4 passer rating and a 74.4 passing grade.

Speaking of first downs, 47.7% of Stroud’s targets have been beyond the first-down marker. He completed nine of those 14 passes against the Jaguars for 183 yards, two touchdowns a 147.3 passer rating and an 89.3 grade. And his 18 completions on throws of at least 10 yards downfield leads the NFL.

C.J. Stroud by Passing Depth | 2023
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Stroud’s performance through his first three games earned him the AFC’s Offensive Rookie of the Month award. At this rate, the Texans could be making some noise in the AFC South sooner rather than later.

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