Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is in the middle of perhaps the biggest debate ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Stroud, at one time considered a likely candidate to be taken No. 1 overall, is now the subject of several reports from numerous sources that suggest some NFL teams aren't completely sold on the Buckeyes signal-caller.
This, after completing 69.3 percent of his passes for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns to 12 interceptions over the last two seasons and putting together a spectacular showing at the NFL Combine. Most, if not all, of the rumors surrounding Stroud relate to the team that was previously considered the favorite to draft him: the Texans, at No. 2 overall.
MORE: Where does Stroud land in TSN's three-round mock draft?
That said, Houston's need for a quarterback can't be understated, and the general consensus surrounding Stroud in the lead-up to the draft is he's the best pure passer of the 2023 class. Why the sudden change in opinion?
It's smokescreen season — a time just before the draft in which teams try to confuse their draft-day competition by leaking false reports, either to stop a team from drafting someone or to manufacture a bidding war for a certain pick of the draft. And no player is generating more discussions than Stroud.
The Sporting News is tracking the latest rumors regarding the Ohio State QB leading up to the draft, and determining whether they're based in truth — and to what degree.
C.J. Stroud NFL Draft rumors
QB coaches weigh in on Stroud draft slide
- Date: Monday, April 24
- Reported by: The Athletic's Bruce Feldman
- Smoke screen index: 1/10
With rumors piling up that Stroud is in the midst of a slide down draft boards, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic (subscription required) asked several NFL quarterback coaches what they thought of the Ohio State signal-caller.
One coach, whose team Feldman noted wasn't in position to draft a quarterback, said Stroud's reported 18th-percentile score on the S2 as a big red flag — enough to switch him and Young atop his positional rankings.
"To me, that's what flipped me (to put Young ahead of Stroud). When I saw that S2, it was brutal," he said. "That’s scary. Now listen, if we were in that position, I’d get him to re-take that test. Sometimes that happens. Guy gets a false read on a test, but I do believe in S2 and … well, if I believe in it and you’ve got plenty of evidence from looking at the scores and the players that you’ve coached, you can’t discount it or deny it."
Another QB coach was confused by the score, which he said didn't match up with what he saw of Stroud on film.
"I know when I watch him that (low S2 score) doesn’t make sense. I was shocked when I heard he bombed it. Did he not try? He didn’t throw many picks. He didn’t have a lot of really bad split-second decisions. I just didn’t see it. He’s great going through his progressions."
A third coach said he didn't care about the hits Stroud has taken in his draft stock, saying he gave a great interview and showed little on film to be worried about. He did, however, have one reservation: Stroud will not have near the wide receiver talent in the NFL as he did in Columbus.
"That’s gonna be the best he ever has for the rest of his life, the coach said. "Garrett Wilson, (Chris) Olave, (Marvin) Harrison, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. You’re lucky to have one guy like that. Best case two. He had four or five like that.
"This could be the best version of (Stroud) as well. I think if Aidan O’Connell from Purdue was at Ohio State, I think he would’ve thrown for 40 touchdowns, to be honest."
'No lock' Stroud goes in top seven of 2023 draft
- Date: Monday, April 24
- Reported by: ProFootballTalk's Peter King
- Smoke screen index: 3/10
Peter King's "Football Morning in America" dropped on Monday, complete with his own mock draft just days ahead of the real thing. Prior to revealing his picks for the draft — based on his own personal opinions — he made note that "it’s no lock (Stroud) goes in the top seven, which seems (and is) insane."
So while King thinks it's possible Stroud falls out of contention for a top-five pick, he himself doesn't think it will happen. Indeed, he has the Ohio State signal-caller going third overall to the Titans, whom he has trading up in a deal with the Cardinals to grab their quarterback of the future. It's a move that, while expensive, makes sense on the surface: Ryan Tannehill is in the last year of his contract in Tennessee, which is also reportedly disenchanted with second-year QB Malik Willis.
Stroud falls to fourth-best odds to go No. 2 overall
- Date: Sunday, April 23
- Reported by: BetMGM
- Smoke screen index: 3/10
When the bookies get involved, it's worth listening. The latest odds — courtesy of BetMGM — have Stroud with the fourth-best odds to go second overall. He now trails Kentucky's Will Levis (-145), Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson (+300) and Alabama's Anderson (+450) to go second in the draft.
Oddsmakers are a fairly accurate barometer for how teams will act: If Stroud has fallen out of favor in Las Vegas, then it means they may have some inside information as to how the 2023 NFL Draft will play out (whether they are being given accurate information is another question altogether). There's still time for the odds to shift ahead of Thursday's draft but, as of now, it seems as if the Texans will either draft a defensive player or attempt a trade back.
Stroud scored low on S2 Cognition test
- Date: Friday, April 21
- Reported by: GoLongTD.com's Bob McGinn
- Smoke screen index: 6/10
According to a report from Bob McGinn of GoLongTD.com, Stroud scored in the 18th percentile on the S2 Cognition test, which purports to measure players' informational processing and reaction speed — areas of key importance for quarterbacks.
“Stroud scored 18,” McGinn quoted an executive. “That is like red alert, red alert, you can’t take a guy like that. That is why I have Stroud as a bust. That in conjunction with the fact, name one Ohio State quarterback that’s ever done it in the league.”
McGinn also reported a 96 percent score for Fresno State's Jake Haener, 93 percent for Kentucky’s Will Levis and BYU's Jaren Hall, 84 percent for Houston’s Clayton Tune, 79 percent for Florida’s Anthony Richardson and 46 percent for Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker
A low score would certainly explain why Stroud is rumored to be falling down teams' draft boards: S2 co-founder Brandon Ally told The Athletic the average score for quarterbacks is in the 68th percentile. However, Ally also said S2 does not reveal scores, which are privileged information.
Ally also said on April 14 to take leaked scores with a grain of salt. He added that QBs at the top of the draft this year "have scored really, really well."
"We have seen, 'Hey, so and so scored the highest in the class, or the highest ever, and so and so scored low.' And it's like, 'Yeah, that's not true,'" Ally told Pro Football Focus. "But with that being said, I will say that this class as a whole, all the guys in the discussion, have scored really, really well."
Stroud 'ghosted' Manning Passing Academy
- Date: Wednesday, April 19
- Reported by: Fox Sports' Brady Quinn
- Smoke screen index: 10/10
Fox Sports college football analyst and former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn — appearing on CBS Sports' "Pick Six Podcast" on Wednesday — was asked why Stroud may be falling down draft boards. He provided one example he said he heard from NFL teams:
"The Manning Passing Academy, I've been told that he committed to it the night before, just kind of ghosted them, didn't show up," Quinn said (via Yahoo Sports). "That's football royalty. And when you do that, that's going to set off some alarms for people like, 'Hey man, that's not how you conduct yourself, especially around the Manning family or just in general if you're going to be a franchise quarterback.'"
While Stroud was listed as a participant in the camp, it's uncertain whether he actually committed to the camp or otherwise explained why he couldn't participate beforehand. Regardless, ESPN's Ryan Clark on Thursday took offense to what he called "gossip" from Quinn.
This is an example of analyst like @Brady_Quinn telling stories of 0 value to diminish a man’s character while validating his own. Instead of dissecting film, or speaking to coaches an adult man stooped to gossip while analyzing. It’s an immature evaluation of football integrity https://t.co/3ijng1787q— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) April 20, 2023
Quinn later said his comments were unfairly taken out of context, adding he was asked why Stroud could be dropping down draft boards and that he “simply provided a few examples of what I was told.”
As it stands, the unverified circumstances of Stroud and the Manning Passing Academy — factually relayed or otherwise — are ultimately trivial in his draft stock. No GM or coach is going to pass up on a player solely on that fact.
Bryce Young — not Stroud — will be Panthers' choice with first overall pick
- Date: Monday, April 17
- Reported by: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero
- Smoke screen index: 2/10
Stroud was the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Panthers as recently as April 10. Since then, Alabama signal-caller Bryce Young — his top competition to go first overall — has skyrocketed up the odds boards as the favorite to land in Carolina.
Though Panthers GM Scott Fitterer has denied the team informed Young it would draft him first overall, the Crimson Tide prospect has canceled his remaining visits with NFL franchises after visiting with the Panthers and Texans.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 17, 2023
Alabama QB Bryce Young has canceled his remaining pre-draft visits, per sources — another sign to back up belief within the league that the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner will be the #Panthers’ pick at No. 1 overall.
It wouldn't make sense for Young to do so unless one or both of Houston and Carolina said they will take him if he's available. That means Stroud may end up going second to the Texans after all. Except. ...
MORE: Ohio State-only 2023 NFL mock draft
Texans 'open to listening' for No. 2 pick trade offers
- Date: Monday, April 17
- Reported by: Texans GM Nick Caserio
- Smoke screen index: 6/10
It remains to be seen what Houston thinks of Stroud. For now, Texans general manager Nick Caserio says the team is happy to field calls from teams as they make inquiries about moving up in the draft:
“We’ve received some calls, actually, on the No. 2 pick,” Caserio told reporters on Monday. “I think our job and responsibility is to listen and not rule anything out. I think whatever the end result is come (April 27), you know, we’ll be prepared to go either way.
“If you want to quote me, are we open for business, I would say we’re open to listening, so if you want to change the vocabulary a little bit this year.”
A trade out of the No. 2 spot suggests Houston doesn't consider the Buckeyes QB worthy of a top-two pick, or at least that the capital secured in a trade would be more valuable than simply drafting him. That said, they still need a cornerstone at the position, and the consensus is no other prospect rises to his or Young's level this year.
What's more likely is Caserio would take Stroud at No. 2, but is still attempting to manufacture a bidding war to secure a king's ransom of draft capital. That could then be used to take a QB at No. 12 overall, or in the second or third rounds, while other needs are met with the early round picks.
Texans struggling to trade out of No. 2 pick because 'teams don't covet Stroud'
- Date: Monday, April 17
- Reported by: NFL.com's Lance Zierlein
- Smoke screen index: 5/10
Lance Zierlein, an NFL.com draft analyst based out of Houston, reported on Monday the Texans are "trying to get out of" the No. 2 pick, but having trouble finding a trade partner. Zierlein said as much when he claimed "teams don't covet Stroud like the public thinks."
It's hard to believe no team with a need at QB thinks Stroud is worth the No. 2 overall pick, though that hinges on what Houston's asking price is (for what it's worth, Stroud and former Texans QB Deshaun Watson share an agent in David Mulugheta). Even if they aren't as high on Stroud as Zierlein suggests, Anthony Richardson — whose physical attributes compare favorably to former NFL MVP Cam Newton — could be taken there instead.
MORE: Why Houston could avoid QB options with No. 2 pick
Texans' DeMeco Ryans 'leaning heavily' to Will Anderson Jr. at No. 2
- Date: Thursday, April 13
- Reported by: TexansDaily's Coty Davis
- Smoke screen index: 7/10
Coty Davis of TexansDaily, citing a source close to the team, reported first-year coach DeMeco Ryans — a defensive-minded coach — prefers Alabama EDGE rusher Will Anderson Jr. over Stroud at No. 2. Though Davis displayed some skepticism in his report, he acknowledged what he believes is a kernel of truth to it:
"But we do believe that in addition to Stroud, the Texans may have some doubts about quarterbacks Will Levis or Anthony Richardson as high picks. And we do believe they do like Bryce Young.
"And, we're told, the head coach does like Will Anderson. A lot."
Even if Ryans likes Anderson, it doesn't make sense to draft him second overall. He may be the top defensive player available, but he is not considered the generational prospect of previous defenders, such as Von Miller. To that end, it would be better for the Texans to trade back with a team — that now thinks it can get Stroud — and instead take one of Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson, Clemson's Myles Murphy or any number of players at other positions.