This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: C.J. Stroud
School: Ohio State
Height/Weight: 6-3, 218
Hometown: Inland Empire, California
(Below is a portion of Deepi Sidhu's interview with Phil Harrison, beat reporter for USA Today's Buckeyes Wire.)
Sidhu: What are your thoughts about C.J. Stroud and this whole quarterback debate, C.J. versus Bryce Young? I know people in Houston love talking about it, but give us your best pitch for C.J. Stroud being the No. 1 quarterback in this year's draft class.
Harrison: Best pitch, you know, obviously coming from the Ohio State side of things, but seeing C.J. Stroud a lot more than Bryce. I'm not taking anything away from Bryce Young because clearly I think you're not going to go wrong either way there.
What C.J. has that Bryce probably doesn't have is, you always worry about the height factor. The height has been talked about with Bryce Young a lot. C.J. Stroud has the measurables. He's kind of long, he's six-foot-three, can see over defenses so he kind of has the prototypical, historical quarterback body. Now, we've seen in the past here recently that there's been plenty of quarterbacks who overcome that hype thing. Kyler Murray comes to mind. There's just guys that have shown that's not really as big a deal as maybe some people thought but scouts and executives are going to look at that. They're going to look at the height, they're going to look at everything.
Then the other thing I would say that sets C.J. apart from Bryce Young is his accuracy. He's highly accurate, not only in the mid, all three levels of the field, he can make all the throws. His deep ball is really, really good and he completed 70 percent of his passes two years ago. I know that went down a little bit this year, but he did have the one game where there was basically gale force winds at Northwestern that kind of brought that percentage down. So very, very accurate passer.
I'll also say, if you're looking for a guy to be the face of a franchise, C.J. Stroud, in all my years of covering Ohio State and being a fan and all that, is probably the most humble and down-to-earth person that we have ever seen in the quarterback position. Justin Fields was good in that area, too but C.J. Stroud always deflects praise to his teammates. He's very, very grounded in his faith and is just a really good human being. So if you worry about off the field issues or a guy being a cancer in a locker room, with C.J. Stroud, you're going have no problem with that at all.
Sidhu: He has been certainly a lot of fun to watch but a lot of people talk about the NFL caliber weapons that he has to throw to as well, which oddly enough, sometimes is a negative that he's got all these weapons that he can throw to. But how much of the success of the wide receivers really lands on Stroud's shoulders, just being able to put them in a position to make those sort of plays?
Harrison: That's one thing I think C.J. does really well and, I mean, that is a talking point, right? Bryce Young also had good weapons around him. Now, Ohio State's wide receiver corps over the last few years have been ridiculous. I mean, they've been really good you had two first rounders go last year and another one this year. Yeah that goes into it but C.J. does a really good job with his accuracy. He trusts his receivers and if you go back and watch game film, he always puts it in a spot where his guy can go make a play. So sometimes he'll do back shoulder, sometimes he leads them into areas that open windows. So I think he does a really good job with it, clearly his receivers that he's had has helped a little bit but you can see his ability to read defenses and put the ball where his playmakers can go get it. So I think if you're looking for a guy at the NFL level, those windows are probably going to be a little bit tighter, but he has a really good job of plugging the ball where his guy can make a play.
Sidhu: Some critics say that Stroud not as effective when facing pressure since he's a pure pocket passer. Where does he fit into a league that is trending towards more mobile QBs?
Harrison: Yeah, I think it's a bit of a concern and I have seen him stand in the pocket and make throws plenty of occasions. But with any quarterback, I think your rate of completion is going to go down a little bit. It's a risk reward thing, right? That's probably an area, though, that he probably could grow a little bit.
The other thing, talking about that a little bit with pressure coming, I think one of the things that he's not done enough of- and Ohio State fans will nod their head if they hear this - is when the pressure comes, he's pretty hesitant to take off and take what the defense gives him with his legs. So I think that's probably his biggest area of growth. We saw him do that against Georgia and all of a sudden, Ohio State's moving the ball a lot more because he did take off and use his legs a little bit more and you kind of need that in today's game. So his ability to understand where pressure comes from is pretty good, but yeah, there's a little bit of growth there. I think with his ability to get the ball out a little bit quicker where it needs to go and then to be able to give what the defense gives him when it breaks down and get out of the pocket and start making some plays with his legs.
Sidhu: You talked about his personality a little bit, but are there any particular moments or stories about C.J. Stroud that you could share that really stood out to you over just your time covering him?
Harrison: I would point to it's just funny how he comes to the defense of his players and his coaches because he's just that type of guy. Ohio State lost to Michigan for two years in a row, and so the press conference afterwards was not a very pleasant one for him or his head coach. They were there together and, of course, they got peppered by the media because Ohio State's not used to losing to Michigan. It's been two years in a row. C.J. is sitting off to the side, he's not even being asked a question. It's Ryan Day that's being asked the question and they asked him about some of the play calls. All of a sudden, you hear C.J. and say, 'Oh, it was great play call, a really good play call. I stand by it all the time.' He just has that mentality where he enjoys competition. He enjoys being around the guys that he plays with and he's going to defend, in a good way, but he just has the backs of all of his players and his coaches and it's refreshing.