C.J. Stroud is well on his way to the best rookie quarterback performance in NFL history. Usually rookie quarterbacks are limited by their lack of professional experience and/or their coaches’ lack of confidence in their grasp of the complexities of football at the NFL level. Through nine games, there appear to be no limits to Stroud’s on-field capabilities, as he has led the Houston Texans to an above .500 record for the first time since Week 1 of the 2021 season.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been playing championship-level football since their Week 7 Bye. They got off to a rough start on Sunday, but scored 20 second-half points to eventually tie the game at 27-all with less than two minutes remaining in the game. For the second-consecutive week, Stroud led the Texans on a game-winning drive, and they have a 5-4 record through 10 weeks.
Stroud has thrown for 2,626 yards, 15 touchdowns, two interceptions and is averaging 8.3 yards per attempt. He is a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and if the Texans claw their way to an AFC South title, he will be in consideration for MVP. Stroud deserves the majority of the credit for entering the NFL ready to play from Week 1, but had his team not put a decent infrastructure around him, it is unlikely that he would be experiencing this much early-season success.
The Texans set the foundation with a first-rate coaching staff. They hired the most coveted head-coaching candidate in the league, DeMeco Ryans — who made the Pro Bowl twice for them as a player. Ryans came to the Texans from the San Francisco 49ers, and brought with him Bobby Slowik who was their passing game coordinator. The Texans also hired Chris Strausser away from division-rival Indianapolis Colts to coach the offensive line.
A team with the second-overall pick in the NFL draft needed to greatly improve its entire roster. There is no better way to ruin a rookie quarterback than failing to provide him with talented teammates. They added Jimmie Ward and Sheldon Rankins — who was huge for the Texans in his return from injury against the Bengals — to bolster the defense. They also traded up to draft arguably the best pass rusher in the 2023 draft, Will Anderson IV.
On offense they signed Dalton Schultz. As the Dallas Cowboys’ tight end, he was targeted a minimum of 89 times the last three seasons. The Texans appear to have found a third-round gem in rookie Tank Dell. He has totaled 12 receptions for 170 yards and three touchdowns the last two weeks. Also, Devin Singeltary was brought in to provide depth at running back. On Sunday, he hit the 100-yard mark for the first time this season with starter Dameon Pierce out due to injury.
It has not been only the new acquisitions that have provided support for Stroud in his rookie season. The Texans re-signed left tackle Laremy Tunsil in September to a contract that made him the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. He made his presence felt all day during the Texans’ Week 10 victory.
The Texans are far from a perfect team, but the franchise made sure that Stroud was not starting from zero. They did good work in turning a team that went 3-13-1 into something that resembles competence.
Many rookie quarterbacks — including the first one in Texans’ franchise history — have been ruined by being forced to try and avoid getting burned in a melting pocket. With an average offensive line and defense, several promising skill-position players, and a well-respected coaching staff, Stroud’s team did yeoman’s work to surround him with competence.
The talent around him has helped his talent shine MVP bright.
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