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Stroud's impressive start underscores silliness of pre-draft process

C.J. Stroud C.J. Stroud - The Canadian Press

C.J. Stroud spent weeks leading into the NFL draft answering questions about a cognition test.

Nobody cares how he scored anymore.

Stroud’s impressive performance in the first four games proves the eye test is often a far better judge of talent. The former Ohio State star has led the Houston Texans (2-2) to consecutive wins while being named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month.

Stroud became only the sixth QB in NFL history to throw for at least 1,200 yards with no picks in the first four games of the season. The others all have Super Bowl rings: Aaron Rodgers (2020), Patrick Mahomes (2018 and ’19), Drew Brees (2018), Tom Brady (2015 and ’17) and Peyton Manning (2013).

“It’s cool to be mentioned with those guys — they’re all legends, guys that I looked up to,” Stroud said. “It’s just letting me know that I have the opportunity to do something special and I’ve got to continue to work really, really hard to be where those guys are at and try to be better than them.

"I’ve talked to Brady before and a couple of those guys, and they always have positive and good things to say. They always tell me the work and being a great teammate is more important than the accolades and the yards and everything like that. Those are what get you championships, makes you become a better quarterback and not only a quarterback, but a better person — is doing it for your teammates. I take that to heart. ...

“I have a lot of work to do, a lot of growing still to happen. I have to get a lot better in multiple areas, but I think that’s going to be every year,” he said.

Stroud was selected No. 2 in the draft after many experts predicted he would go first to Carolina. The Panthers chose Bryce Young. After reports emerged that Stroud scored poorly in the S2 Cognitive Test — which measures perception speed, search efficiency, tracking capacity, visual learning and more — there was even some thought he would slip into the latter part of the first round.

The Texans are grateful they didn’t pass him up.

“As a rookie, I would say that he’s really good because he knows when and why, which I think is rare for a rookie,” Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik said of Stroud’s ability to read defenses with his eyes. “A lot of times — like in college, he definitely did it. Without a doubt, it showed up on his college tape. It was really neat to see him do it on his (top) 30 visit and our Zooms and stuff with him.

“You could tell he had a good understanding in college of why he was trying to look somebody off, and then that’s only grown since he’s gotten to the NFL and growing within our scheme, where I think initially when we first got to camp, you go through this period where you get so used to doing it that it’s a little too much and then you bring it back to balance it out and then it starts growing again. ‘Oh, now I understand on this concept — this is why I may want to put this defender here’ and it just keeps building and building. Obviously, you get in a game playing situation, and you attack specific coverages and specific defenders — he’s been awesome in that regard.”

Stroud has outshined all the QBs in this year’s draft class. Young is struggling with the winless Panthers (0-4). Anthony Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick, has shown plenty of promise in the two games he’s started and finished for the Colts (2-2). Will Levis, chosen by Tennessee in the second round, hasn’t played.

Aidan O’Connell, a fourth-round pick by Las Vegas, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round selection by the Browns, both started because of injuries in Week 4 and lost.

“C.J., his quarterback play, he played a lot of football in college, and you’ve seen some of the same things whether it’s looking off safeties, moving curl flat defenders, he’s done that in college, and it continues to show,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He’s a good quarterback. He goes through his progressions, he makes the right reads, and he’s able to do that because of the guys that he has up front and what they’re doing to protect him.

“So, C.J. is making some really nice throws (and) nice reads, and when you have a guy who is detailed, and he takes the time to study and go through the progression — he knows what defense he’s facing and he knows where the problems are, and he knows where he can put the football — and he puts it in a good position where it doesn’t put the team in harm. He protects the ball, he protects the team, and he’s done a really good job of that.”

Ryans, Slowik and Houston’s scouts trusted their evaluation of Stroud and put more stock in what they saw than a test score. It’s only four games but Stroud is off to an excellent start. Teams should consider that the next time reports leak about a player getting a bad grade during the pre-draft process.