Apr 28, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; From left to right, Houston Texans quarterback CJ Stroud (left), second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and Texans linebacker Will Anderson Jr., third overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, pose for a photo at a press conference at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Ryans praises Stroud, Anderson and their ‘burning desire to win’ as rookies
When he was hired as the Texans’ new coach in January, DeMeco Ryans called it his “dream job.” He interviewed with Denver and declined opportunities to interview with Carolina, Indianapolis, and Arizona. Now we know why. General manager Nick Caserio must have promised Ryans he would find a way to manipulate the first round of the draft in a manner that would bring quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson Jr. to Houston.
How else do you explain it? It’s one thing to get Stroud, a franchise quarterback who fills the biggest need on the team, but to come out of the first round with Anderson, the No. 1 defensive prospect and the draft’s best pass rusher who also fills a glaring need, was absolutely stunning. The Texans just stole the first night of the draft.
On Friday, Stroud and Anderson came to NRG Stadium for their introductory news conference. They were sandwiched between Ryans and Caserio. They were humble, sincere, and funny. They exchanged good-natured barbs, gave God credit for helping them get to this point in their lives, and promised to do everything possible to help the Texans become a winner again.
“Me and Nick have been collaborating on everything we’ve done,” Ryans said. “We’ve been on the same page. It’s been exciting to work with Nick, and we’re excited to get the deal done because we knew we were getting the deal done for the right guys.
“To get C.J., I was elated. Now, (could) we get Will, too? Once we were able to seal that deal and also get Will, I was over the moon. I couldn’t have been happier. Being able to get these guys was outstanding. Credit goes to Nick and the work he did to make that deal happen. He did an outstanding job.”
Ryans should have been shaking Caserio’s hand and pounding his back after what the general manager was able to pull off. To trade up with Arizona from the 12th pick in the first round to the third, Caserio swapped first-round draft choices, accepted a fourth-round pick on Saturday, and gave the Cardinals first- and third-round selections in 2024 when the Texans will still have picks in the first and second round. For those who complained that the Texans surrendered too much, hogwash!
“We’re really excited about adding these two young men who represent the type of qualities we want,” Ryans said about Stroud and Anderson. “They’re hard workers. They’re competitive, and they have this burning desire to win. They come from winning programs. They know what winning looks like. These are the type of men we want in our locker room.”
Ryans was gifted with the team’s first franchise quarterback since Deshaun Watson. After Watson spent the 2021 season on the inactive list and was traded to Cleveland in 2022, the Texans employed Davis Mills, Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel, and Kyle Allen. Only Mills remains. They added Case Keenum in free agency and claimed E.J. Perry on waivers.
“C.J. is a fierce competitor,” Ryans said. “He wants to win. It means a lot to him to win, and I love that about him. His talent on the field speaks for itself. He’s very accurate and makes great decisions with the ball. He’s done an excellent job of leading a top program at Ohio State. Every teammate we spoke to from Ohio State spoke highly of C.J. and the type of leader he is.”
In his last game at Ohio State, Stroud went out in style. In a 42-41 playoff loss to Georgia, the eventual national championship for a second consecutive year, Stroud threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
“A lot of people talk about the Georgia game, but C.J. will tell you, he had a lot of other games we consider his best games,” Ryans said. “It was a process of seeing the improvement, the growth, that impressed me the most.”
Stroud, 6-3, 214, compiled a 21-4 record as a starter for the Buckeyes after watching and learning behind Justin Fields. He finished his career with 8,123 yards, 85 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
Stroud and Anderson are starting over with the Texans. They’ll play different schemes than they played at Ohio State and Alabama.
“One thing I love about both of these guys is their willingness to adjust and adapt to what’s coming next,” Ryans said.
As a three-year starter for Nick Saban, Anderson usually played from a standup position in Alabama’s 3-4. The Texans play a 4-3 under Ryans and new defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Most of the time, Anderson will play with his hand on the ground. Either way, his quickness, and speed usually give him an advantage when he comes flying off the edge in pursuit of the quarterback.
Because Ryans played at Alabama, he has a fondness for Crimson Tide players and tries to watch their games when he has a chance.
“I’ve seen Will for a long time, seen a few of his games,” Ryans said. “When they needed a play on defense, it was usually No. 31. That was the guy stepping up to make the play.
“Everyone knows about the leadership qualities Will possesses. I also love the energy he brings. I love the passion and humbleness. He’s such a competitor. He doesn’t have to be the staple of the defense. He just has to be the best Will Anderson he can be. Just be the best version of himself, and that’s going to be good enough for our team.”
When the Texans began having 30 prospects visit NRG Stadium during the evaluation process, Anderson was the first to come to Houston.
“It was an instant connection, not only with me, but with our entire staff,” Ryans said. “Will did a great job connecting with everyone. He’s a great teammate, and that’s followed him from Alabama through his journey here. He’ll continue to be that great teammate, and people will gravitate toward him.”
Ryans didn’t try to contain his enthusiasm for Stroud and Anderson. He was effusive in his praise for them. They’ll have high expectations when they report for the three-day rookie minicamp from May 12-14.
“Our role as coaches is to develop these young players,” Ryans said. “No one is a finished product. We all have strengths and weaknesses. These guys want to work to be the best.
“You can’t speak highly enough about both of these guys. It just speaks to their families and how these young men were raised – the right way. They represent their families well. I want to thank the families for raising such great young men (and) also for raising such great athletes as well.”
(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).