Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Houston Texans second overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Stroud, Anderson eager to join Texans and help Ryans revitalize the franchise
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Alabama defensive end Will Anderson Jr. – the second and third overall picks in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft – can’t wait to join the Texans and help new coach DeMeco Ryans resurrect the franchise.
Stroud and Anderson attended the draft in Kansas City. After general manager Nick Caserio selected Stroud and pulled off a trade with Arizona to move into the third spot to get Anderson, they exchanged congratulatory handshakes and warm hugs. Then they met with the Houston media on a Zoom call.
“I’m battle-tested, and I’m going to work my tail off to get the job done,” Stroud said. “We’re going to make sure we win a lot of games. I’m young (21 years old), and I’ve got a lot to learn because I want to be a franchise quarterback.”
Anderson, who won the Rotary Lombardi Award in Houston for his performance last season, was thrilled to be drafted by the Texans, especially knowing Stroud will be one of his teammates.
“I want to ball with these guys,” Anderson said about Stroud and his new teammates. “I had some great conversations with (Ryans). To go from coach (Nick) Saban to coach Ryans, I’m super-blessed and super-excited.”
Stroud and Anderson will be on the field together for the first time at the rookie minicamp on May 12-14.
“We’re certainly excited about adding Will and C.J. to the roster,” Caserio said. “There’s no timetable on either player. The goal is for the player to work hard and earn his role on the team.”
Stroud will be the fourth quarterback on the roster with Davis Mills, Case Keenum, and A.J. Perry.
“C.J. is a really productive player,” Caserio said. “He’s a competitive player and has an edge about him. He loves football. He wants to compete and be great. Good size (6-3, 218), comes from a good program. Our coaches spent a lot of time with him.”
The first round of the draft began with Carolina selecting Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, as expected. Then Caserio quickly chose Stroud before orchestrating one of the most impressive trades in Houston history. To get the third overall pick, Caserio gave Arizona the 12th selection in the first round. He added their second-round pick, 33rd overall, as well as first- and third-round draft choices next year.
“It was an organizational effort,” Caserio said. “I can’t say enough about DeMeco’s involvement. He and I talked about different scenarios. All along, we were prepared to pick at two. Whether we could move up from 12 depended on a number of different factors. There was dialogue over the last several days about some parameters.
“The trade was an opportunity to get a player we thought very highly of. We knew Will wasn’t going to be there very long. I can’t say enough about the good person he is and the kind of leader he is. The praise (from people) was just incredible. Wherever they (Stroud and Anderson) are as players, they are as people, too. Every step of the way, the message is the same, and it says a lot about the individuals.”
Caserio made the trade with a good friend and a former co-worker at New England, Monte Ossenfort, who’s in his first year as the Cardinals’ general manager.
“Trades are always a function of the player,” Caserio said. “If you want a player and you think a trade is the right thing to do, then go ahead and do it. The trade was driven by a player we thought would bring a lot of value to our team. I’m certainly thankful for the help of the people involved. The decisions we made we feel are in the best interests of the organization.”
After Caserio was able to draft Stroud and Anderson, Texans’ fans gave their rousing approval. Owners Cal and Hannah McNair celebrated. Ryans, offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, and defensive coordinator Matt Burke did everything but turn cartwheels down the hallway at NRG Stadium.
Caserio pulled off the boldest move by a Houston pro football general manager since the Oilers’ Bum Phillips traded up to get the first overall pick in 1978 to draft running back Earl Campbell, who’s enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Stroud was the second-best quarterback on just about every draft board. In his two seasons as a starter, Stroud threw 85 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions for the Buckeyes and helped develop some of the greatest receivers in college football – Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Marvin Harrison Jr.
Stroud had an outstanding combine and pro day. He was considered as the best pure passer in the draft. Obviously, the Texans weren’t concerned about the 18 Stroud scored on the S2 Cognition test. They aren’t one of the 15 teams that have used the Nashville company to test players over the last seven years.
As the defensive coordinator at San Francisco the last two seasons, Ryans had three first-round picks in his defensive line and none in his back seven. He and Burke have emphasized how determined they are to build a defense that’ll dominate the line of scrimmage. Anderson’s specialty is putting pressure on the quarterback.
The Texans had a desperate need at defensive end. Their two starters – Jerry Hughes and Jonathan Greenard – are entering the last year of their contracts. Hughes turns 35 in August. Greenard, who missed 13 games the last two years because of injuries, also is in the last year of his contract. Their third edge rusher, Obo Okoronkwo, signed with Cleveland as a free agent.
Anderson was 6-3 ½, 253 at the combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60. He was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide. He had seven sacks on Nick Saban’s 2020 national championship team. He recorded 17.5 in 2021 and 10 last season. As far as tackles for loss, he registered 10.5, 31, and 17 in his three seasons as a starter.
Once Georgia defensive end Jalen Carter’s off-the-field issues became public,
Anderson became the highest-rated defensive player available. A lot of teams had him as the highest-rated prospect in the draft. Unlike almost every other prospect, Anderson doesn’t come with a weakness. There are no issues with his game or questions about his character. Coaches love his all-out work ethic.
Anderson excelled in the SEC, the best conference in the country. He performed exceptionally on the nation’s biggest stage. He was consistently productive his last two seasons.
Anderson has incredible quickness and speed. He explodes off the ball, uses a variety of moves to shed the offensive tackle, or merely dips and accelerates under the block. He’s got strong hands, agile feet, and an impressive closing burst to the quarterback. His balance and recovery ability are so good he didn’t spend a lot of time on the ground. And when he did go down, he popped back up like a jack in the box.
Drafting Stroud and Anderson with the second and third picks received universal praise for the Texans at a time when they can use it the most. They’ll go into the last two days of the draft with nine more selections, beginning in the third round. Unless, of course, Caserio gets a little bolder and trades back into the second round to select a wide receiver or center.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).