Buckeye Football Freshman Focus 2020 — QB CJ Stroud

CJ Stroud Ohio State Football Buckeyes Justin Fields

It is time to start our annual series previewing Ohio State’s incoming freshman class and what we can expect them to bring to the Buckeyes this year and down the road. Up first, we turn to a quarterback out of California.

CJ Stroud showed up on Ohio State’s recruiting radar a little bit late in the process, and business didn’t really pick up until the summer before his senior season.

Stroud and a number of then-Buckeye commits hit it off during the summer camp circuit and he eventually signed with Ohio State over offers from Michigan, Georgia, USC, Oregon, and others.

Ranked a 5-star prospect and the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class, Stroud was actually the second quarterback commit in the Buckeyes’ class, joining 4-star Arizona prospect Jack Miller. The need for a second quarterback in the class wasn’t about the staff having doubts in Miller, and rather had everything to do with the number of transfers the Buckeyes have had at the position over the last two years.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day wants four scholarship quarterbacks every year if he can get it, and Stroud got them to that number.

But he’s more than just a number, even as he posts big numbers himself. Stroud threw for 3,878 yards last season as a senior, completing 265-of-402 attempts (.659) with 47 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He led his team to a 9-4 record.

What To Like

CJ Stroud can make any number of throws and from any number of angles, but the one thing he can do that he wants more people to know about is his ability to run. Recruiting services may consider him a pocket passer, but he doesn’t see himself that way. He believes he will be an effective runner at Ohio State, and his highlights don’t contradict him.

Stroud will be able to incorporate himself into the running game. He won’t need to do it much, but as long as the threat is there, defenses will have to keep him in mind.

What sets him apart from most other quarterbacks, however, is his anticipation and throwing ability. He has accuracy on the move, but when he has time to stand and deliver, he’ll give  you this.

Here’s one of those throws on the move. It’s almost a hook pass because he’s not squared up to throw. He’s also throwing the ball to a spot where only the receiver can get the ball. As he’s throwing it, the receiver is stopped. Stroud leads him further away from the defense. Again, with just a flick of his wrist.

The Potential

CJ Stroud is a pocket passer, but he is also a play maker. He will keep the play alive as long as he can. His accuracy on the move is impressive, but so is his willingness to throw the ball under duress. You have to wonder how much of his slinging will have to be wrapped up a bit in college.

When you watch this second throw, however, you might say pulling Stroud back a bit doesn’t seem like the direction he should go. If you watch it a second time, you might ask yourself if he saw the deep safety lurking down the field. On a third watch, however, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that sometimes you’ve just gotta let the panthers prowl.

And again, Stroud is pretty mobile.

Here’s a good look at a triple-option RPO fake of some kind. The fake to the slot is essentially a long-distance play-action. Stroud turns his back to the guy he’s eventually going to read. Then after the fake is carried out, the read action takes place between him, the defensive end, and his running back.

Stroud quickly makes the right read and the defense that bought the initial play-action fake is well out of position to stop him from scoring on the keeper. There are two looks in the video below, sandwiching a couple of random passing plays for some reason.

He also has a strong enough arm to have no fear throwing down the middle of the field. Stroud can get the ball down the seams and can maneuver it around cornerbacks and in front of safeties.


The Expectations

Under the tutelage of Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis, the expectations for any Ohio State quarterback moving forward is to be one of the best in the nation.

Day wants Ohio State to be Quarterback U and Stroud certainly has the potential to keep that going.

He can make whatever throws the coaches want and also provides a legitimate running threat. Stroud stresses a defense with his skills, and with as much as the Buckeyes’ offense will spread defenses out, he should have viable options on most drop backs.

Here’s a look at a variety of different plays. There are some very impressive throws here — particularly the third play on the clip. But in none of them does Stroud look like he is straining. It’s all pretty easy.

The expectations this year for Stroud will simply be to battle with fellow freshman Jack Miller and fifth-year senior Gunnar Hoak to be Justin Fields’ backup. Then in 2021 when Fields is expected to be off to the NFL, Stroud and Miller will compete with incoming 2021 5-star quarterback Kyle McCord to be the next starting quarterback at Ohio State.

The Bottom Line

Not every throw by CJ Stroud is a perfect example of fundamental football. They are not all lasers defying time and gravity. Some of his best throws are just tosses to open receivers that move the chains, and that’s what will be required at the next level as well.

The highlights show plenty to like and it is easy to see what Stroud can become as a Buckeye. The rest is up to him.

CJ Stroud Highlights