NFL Teams That Should Target C.J. Stroud Following Ohio State QB's Draft Declaration

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2023

NFL Teams That Should Target C.J. Stroud Following Ohio State QB's Draft Declaration

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    Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud
    Ohio State QB C.J. StroudRich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    On Monday, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud made his long-awaited decision regarding the 2023 NFL draft. The 21-year-old signal-caller—and the eighth-ranked prospect on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's latest big board—will enter the draft pool.

    "The process has been difficult," Stroud said in a statement. "And the decision, one of the hardest I've ever had to make. As a kid, I dreamed of playing football at the highest level, and after much prayer, I've made the decision that it's time to turn those dreams into a reality."

    Stroud is expected to vie with Alabama's Bryce Young, Florida's Anthony Richardson and Kentucky's Will Levis to be the first quarterback off the board in April. However, his stellar performance in the Peach Bowl, albeit in a losing effort, gives Stroud a ton of momentum heading into the predraft process.

    Against a tremendous Georgia defense, Stroud went 23-of-34 for 348 yards and four touchdowns with 34 rushing yards. That sort of big-time performance in a playoff game will certainly catch the attention of NFL decision-makers.

    Now that Stroud is officially a 2023 draft option, let's examine six teams that should be targeting the Buckeyes star over the next three months. Factors like team needs, roster construction and draft status were all considered.

    Teams are listed according to the projected draft order.

Houston Texans

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    Texans general manager Nick
    Texans general manager Nick CaserioTim Warner/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bears, who have a budding quarterback in Justin Fields, appear to be poised to use the No. 1 pick on a defensive prospect like Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. or Georgia's Jalen Carter. If so, Houston will have its choice of quarterbacks at No. 2.

    While the Texans have a number of needs—Lovie Smith became the second straight head coach fired after just one season—their lack of a franchise quarterback is glaring.

    Their signal-callers posted a cumulative 76.8 passer rating in 2022 (second-worst in the league).

    The B/R Scouting Department recently pegged Alabama's Bryce Young as a Texans fit because of his big-play ability.

    "Houston's offense desperately needs the spark Young can provide," Derrik Klassen said in the scouting department's recent mock draft. "... Young thrives the longer the ball is in his hands. He's bouncy in the pocket and tough to catch outside of it—a combination that unlocks creative answers other quarterbacks in this class cannot rival."

    While the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner could indeed be Houston's pick, Texans general manager Nick Caserio would be foolish not to take a long look at Stroud.

    At 6'3" and 218 pounds, Stroud has a more archetypal build than Young (6'0", 194 lbs), and it's not as if he's devoid of playmaking ability. He finished the year with 3,688 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and just six interceptions while rushing for 108.

    Stroud has the potential to be a top-tier NFL pocket passer with enough elusiveness to buy time in the pocket and scramble for the occasional first down. He might not have the ceiling that Young possesses, but his high floor could win out as the Texans look to stabilize the game's most important position.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Colts RB Jonathan Taylor
    Colts RB Jonathan TaylorStephen Maturen/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts don't have quite as many needs as the Texans. Despite being a four-win team (with one tie) in 2022, they have several key pieces in place. They had the league's 15th-ranked defense in yards allowed per game, good young receivers in Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce and a franchise running back in Jonathan Taylor.

    What they have lacked for several seasons is a franchise quarterback.

    Since Andrew Luck's surprise retirement in 2019, they have tried to patch the position with journeymen, backups and aging former franchise quarterbacks. The most recent experiment involved former Atlanta Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan (83.9 passer rating this season).

    Snagging Stroud could finally bring some stability to the position.

    "The Colts have hit rock bottom, and finding a young franchise quarterback to develop is the only solution to its problems after cycling through Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles over the past few seasons," the B/R Scouting Department wrote earlier this month.

    Indianapolis could get lucky and have Stroud fall to it at No. 4 if the Texans take Young. The Arizona Cardinals are likely to target a different position at No. 3 because they have Kyler Murray.

    The 2019 first overall pick is coming off a torn ACL and wasn't particularly great in 2022 (87.2 passer rating), but he signed a five-year extension in July that includes $189.5 million guaranteed. For better or worse, Arizona is tied to Murray for the foreseeable future.

    Of course, if the Colts fall in love with Stroud, they may have to consider trading up. The Bears and Cardinals are both candidates to deal their selections to quarterback-needy teams.

Las Vegas Raiders

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    Raiders coach Josh McDaniels
    Raiders coach Josh McDanielsChris Unger/Getty Images

    The Las Vegas Raiders, who hold the seventh overall pick, could look to move up for a quarterback. The Seattle Seahawks are in preliminary conversations about extending Geno Smith, and the Detroit Lions have Jared Goff. However, Las Vegas may still need to jump Houston and/or Indianapolis.

    The Raiders have had their own serviceable starter in Derek Carr. Yet, his nine-year tenure with the franchise is set to end. Head coach Josh McDaniels benched Carr for the final two games of 2022, and the team is expected to explore its trade options.

    Carr's $32.9 million 2023 salary will become guaranteed Feb. 15—along with $7.5 million of his 2024 salary—so the Raiders will likely release him if they cannot deal him.

    Vic Tafur @VicTafur

    If the Raiders can't trade Derek Carr by Feb. 15, they will cut him. He is not extending the deadline.

    Jarrett Stidham showed flashes in his two starts, but he remains largely unproven and will be a free agent in March. Carr's impending exit leaves Las Vegas with serious quarterback questions—ones they could look to answer with a veteran like Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo.

    "I can tell you unequivocally, this is a fact: The Raiders are looking into it. Like, the Raiders are looking into going and acquiring Tom Brady," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer told the Dan Patrick Show earlier this month. "... This is something that the Raiders are doing their research on. Same goes for Jimmy Garoppolo."

    Brady, however, will turn 46 in August, while Garoppolo has a significant injury history, with a season-ending left foot injury being his most recent ailment. Neither is a reliable long-term solution.

    Stroud, who took Ohio State to the College Football Playoff once and was a two-time Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, could be that long-term answer. And if the Raiders can successfully trade Carr, they could have the draft capital needed to move up to get him.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Falcons QB Desmond Ridder
    Falcons QB Desmond RidderCooper Neill/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons may not be willing to trade the capital needed to move up from No. 8 to secure Stroud. A lot will hinge on how the organization views 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder.

    The University of Cincinnati product was the top-ranked quarterback and 17th-ranked overall prospect on the B/R Scouting Department's final 2022 big board. Like Stroud, he led his team to the College Football Playoff and has the makings of a quality pro pocket passer.

    "Considering the improvement he showed his senior season and with still enough upside left to tap into, he has a path toward being a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the position if he gets in the right situation and can continue to work on his consistency," Nate Tice wrote for the B/R Scouting Department last spring.

    Ridder went 2-2 as a starter this season while posting a respectable 86.4 passer rating. That is, of course, a small sample size.

    The Falcons must still evaluate Stroud and prepare for the event that he falls to them at No. 8. Young is an undersized boom-or-bust prospect, while Levis and Richardson are less polished. Stroud is the one relatively "safe" quarterback prospect in this draft.

    If Atlanta isn't 100 percent sold on Ridder, it will at least have to consider a quarterback in this year's draft. While the organization may not be as desperate to land Stroud as the other franchises listed here, it must put a lot of effort into scouting him between now and opening night of the draft April 27.

Carolina Panthers

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    Panthers QB Sam Darnold
    Panthers QB Sam DarnoldChris Graythen/Getty Images

    While the Falcons may have a future long-term starter in Ridder, things are far more uncertain for the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers.

    The Panthers have thrown multiple darts at the quarterback position in the post-Cam Newton era, including trades for both Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. None of them have worked out.

    Mayfield was released after less than a year. While Darnold did show promise late this season (4-2 record, 92.6 passer rating), he was a flop over his first four years in the league and will be a free agent in March.

    The Panthers also have 2022 third-round pick Matt Corral on the roster, but he missed his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury and is an unknown.

    Even if the Panthers bring back Darnold on a short-term prove-it deal, they have to consider making a move for Stroud. At 7-10, Carolina was not that far from being at the top of the division, which was won by the 8-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was despite the fact that the organization fired head coach Matt Rhule in October and traded star running back Christian McCaffrey.

    If Brady leaves the Bucs this offseason, Stroud could immediately become the top quarterback in the NFC South. And that might be enough to make the Panthers division favorites.

    "In the right environment, Stroud will raise the floor of an offense right away. He's got the pre-snap vision, arm talent and accuracy to be functional sooner rather than later, and the progress he showed as the year went on suggests he has a capacity to improve rapidly," Klassen wrote.

    Carolina is a quarterback away from making serious noise in the NFC South next season, and Stroud is perhaps the one draft prospect who can spark immediate success. He's a player that the Panthers must target, even if it means trading up from No. 9.

Tennessee Titans

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    Titans coach Mike Vrabel
    Titans coach Mike VrabelMike Carlson/Getty Images

    After winning back-to-back AFC South titles, the Tennessee Titans missed the playoffs in 2022. This was largely due to a lack of quality quarterback play. Starter Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending ankle injury after 12 games and wasn't particularly great beforehand.

    He posted a QBR of just 49.6—by far his lowest as a Titan—and went 6-6 as a starter. Rookie third-round pick Malik Willis was an even bigger disappointment, posting a QBR of 12.6 and a passer rating of just 42.8.

    There's a chance that Tannehill will bounce back in 2023 and put the Titans right back in contention for a division title. However, he's been merely above-average at best over the past two seasons, and at 34 years old, he has likely reached his ceiling.

    It's time for the Titans to find a new franchise quarterback, and Stroud is the perfect one to target. He has a high floor, could develop quickly and is well-suited to take advantage of Tennessee's playoff window.

    This is a team that had the league's 13th-ranked scoring defense in 2022 and still has star running back Derrick Henry playing at a high level . While the Titans do have Tannehill under contract for another season, dumping him a year early is a viable option.

    Releasing him with a post-June 1 designation would save $27 million off the cap while costing $9.2 million in dead money next season.

    Getting into position to land Stroud, however, may not be as easy. Tennessee holds the 11th overall pick and may have to jump teams like Carolina, Atlanta and Indianapolis to have a shot.

    Of course, if the Titans fall in love with Stroud, it may be worth trading all the way up to No. 1 to get him. Doing so would be costly but would ensure that both the division rival Texans and the Colts can't have him.

    *Contract information via Spotrac. Draft order via Tankathon. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.