Nov 26, 2022; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) warms up prior to the game against the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Unless general manager Nick Caserio stabs a dagger through the hearts of Texans fans, he’ll use the second overall pick in the draft to select a franchise quarterback – the franchise’s first since Deshaun Watson in 2017.
Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are the highest-rated quarterbacks. That means Caserio is guaranteed of getting one of the two best prospects unless he pulls a fast one and drafts a player at another position, takes another quarterback like Florida’s Anthony Richardson or Kentucky’s Will Levis, or trades down so far he bypasses the team’s biggest need in the first round.
For the sake of this quarterback analysis, let’s focus on Young, the fan favorite, and Stroud, the best pure passer available. The prediction is the Texans will get one of them – the one the Panthers pass up with the first overall pick.
Let’s start with Young and get the negative out of the way – his size. He was 5-10 1/8, 204, at the combine after being listed at 6-0, 194 at Alabama. Once he gets to the NFL and gets on a weight program, he’ll add a few pounds, but his frame may keep him in the 205-pound range.
Daniel Jeremiah pointed out recently on the NFL Network that Young will be better protected in the NFL because of the rules than he was in the SEC. Most coaches aren’t worried about Young’s size being a factor in his throwing. He knows how to throw over and between linemen when he’s in the pocket. They worry about his thin frame being able to withstand normal punishment over a 17-game schedule, and, hopefully, more games at some point in his career.
Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said last week at the NFL meetings in Phoenix he isn’t concerned about Young’s size – just turn on the tape and watch him play in the SEC, the best conference in the country. Ryans spent the last six years with the 49ers. They had their most success last season with rookie Brock Purdy, who was almost 6-1.
In coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, the quarterback has to throw from the pocket and on the move. Young can throw accurately from the pocket, but he excels when sliding right, pivoting to his left, or rolling out. In the Texans’ system that’s being installed by new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who also spent the last six years with the 49ers, Young would seem to be an ideal fit, but it’s Caserio’s decision.
After serving as the backup to Matt Jones on Alabama’s national championship team in 2020, Young was a two-year starter in a pro-style offense under coach Nick Saban. Bill O’Brien was Young’s offensive coordinator and position coach.
As a sophomore in 2021, Young started 15 games and won the Heisman Trophy. He threw for 4,872 yards and completed 66.9% of his passes to go with 47 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He also ran for three touchdowns. He had 30 touchdowns and three interceptions against SEC teams, including 16 touchdowns and three interceptions on the road.
In 2022, Young started 12 games, threw for 3,328 yards, completed 64.5%, and had 32 touchdowns and five interceptions. As a junior, he didn’t have his leading receivers from the previous season when Jameson Williams and John Metchie III combined for 175 catches, 2,714 yards, and 23 touchdowns. His most productive wideouts last season, Jermaine Burton and Ja’Corry Brooks, combined for 79 receptions, 1,351 yards, and 15 touchdowns. In his last game for the Crimson Tide, Young threw for 321 yards, five touchdowns without an interception in a Sugar Bowl victory over Kansas State.
Now, let’s look at what Young does best. He has a good but not great arm. He lacks the arm talent of Levis and Richardson, but, as a passer, he’s a much better prospect than both of them. Young has excellent anticipation and is extremely accurate. He puts balls where the receiver wants them, whether he’s throwing over the middle, to the boundary or deep down the field. He has remarkable touch.
Scouts love Young’s poise in the pocket and his composure under pressure. He’s cool and calm no matter what the situation, especially when he’s being chased by pass rushers closing in on him. Young has outstanding pocket presence. He can feel the rush and adjust accordingly. His field vision is exceptional. His eyes are always down the field.
Scouts are impressed with Young’s pre-snap reads and the way he can diagnose in a hurry. He’s smart and soaks up coaching like a sponge. After getting the snap, he processes quickly and is careful with the ball but is able to make the tight-window throws coaches demand because of his timing. He has a compact delivery, and his footwork is good but can still improve with NFL coaching.
Now, let’s pivot to Stroud, a redshirt sophomore and two-year starter who measured 6-3, 214 at the combine. If Stroud is drafted first by Carolina, the Texans are expected to draft Young. If the Panthers select Young, the Texans are expected to choose Stroud.
Playing for coach Ryan Day as a freshman in 2021, Stroud had 4,435 yards, completed 71.9%, and threw 44 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Last season, he had 3,688 yards, a 66.3 completion percentage, 41 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
Stroud saved his best performance for the last game of each season. In the Buckeyes’ 48-45 victory over Utah in the Rose Bowl after the 2021 season, he had 573 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. In a 42-41 playoff loss to eventual national champion Georgia, Stroud had 348 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
After watching Stroud on tape, at the combine, and at his pro day, most scouts believe he’s the best pure passer in the draft. It helped that, as a freshman, he had Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson as his wide receivers. They combined for 230 catches, 3,600 yards, and 34 touchdowns. Last season, Stroud had Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, who combined for 151 receptions, 2,414 yards, and 24 touchdowns. Smith-Njigba played in only three games because of a hamstring injury.
Some have questioned why Stroud doesn’t run more. As he pointed out at the combine, he had great receivers, and he would have done them a disservice by not getting them the ball when they were open. He showed he could run in his last game against Georgia. He had 12 rushes, the only game where he ran more than six times. He had a season-high 79 yards rushing on six carries against Northwestern.
Scouts like Stroud’s arm strength and pocket presence. He can make every throw, and his timing is tremendous. His mechanics are terrific. He’s fearless when waiting for receivers to get open. He never panics in the pocket or when he’s on the move to his right or left. He has outstanding touch. He can drive the ball the way coaches want. He’s confident in the pocket and on the move. He reads coverages well and calmly goes through his progressions. Stroud’s ball placement is remarkable. He’s accurate at throwing to receivers in full stride.
If size isn’t an issue for new Carolina coach Frank Reich, whose regular starting quarterbacks in his career have been at least 6-4, then the Panthers are expected to draft Young. If size concerns them too much, they’re expected to select Stroud. No matter what decision the Panthers make, the Texans should leave the draft with a franchise quarterback – unless Caserio stuns the NFL by taking a position player and going into Ryans’ first season with Case Keenum and Davis Mills as their quarterbacks.
(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).