Takeaways from NFL draft quarterback pro days: C.J. Stroud’s elite ball placement on display

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Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud kicked off a string of pro day workouts for top quarterback prospects in the 2023 NFL draft on Wednesday. NFL team scouts and evaluators will enjoy a three-day stretch of pro days featuring Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Kentucky’s Will Levis, while Florida’s Anthony Richardson will follow next week. I’ll have the chance to see all four live, and that started on Wednesday with Stroud in Columbus.

Stroud is currently my No. 2 quarterback and No. 3 overall prospect in the class. There’s a good chance we see all four of these quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 picks, and Stroud is in the running to be the first one off the board at No. 1 overall. He was terrific on Wednesday, continuing his really strong pre-draft process.

I’m running to the airport to catch my flight to Tuscaloosa for Young’s workout on Thursday, but I wanted to share my biggest takeaways from Stroud’s pro day and what comes next for him. And check back this week for what we learned from the rest of the top QB workouts.

Pro day: March 22 | Ranking: No. 3 (QB2)
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 214 pounds

A clinic in ball placement

I’ve called Stroud the most pure pocket passer in the 2023 draft class, and we saw why on Wednesday. Yes, it was a scripted pro day with no defensive backs jumping routes or pass-rushers barring down on him, but Stroud was about as close to perfect as he could have been during his throwing session. It was almost like he was walking the ball directly into his receivers’ hands at times. We saw excellent ball placement over and over.

Not that this was a surprise. His tape is littered with beautifully layered throws that demonstrate high-end touch and timing, and I don’t think there is an NFL-level pass that he can’t make. He’s accurate to all three levels of the field. After all, Stroud is one of just three passers to have a college career QBR above 90 since the stat was first tracked in 2004 (90.4), joining Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Fields, per ESPN Stats & Information.

He has a smooth delivery and enough arm strength to fit the ball into windows. We saw some of that arm strength at the pro day — and he wasted no time in doing so. Normally we see quarterbacks work their way up to downfield shots and warm up a bit with shorter throws, but Stroud sent the first 20 or so passes to the intermediate or deep levels of the field. He was hitting throws on the rails down both sidelines, changing trajectories and hitting the strike zone with regularity. Scouts loved it. It was really impressive stuff.

Lingering concerns about his work outside the pocket

Stroud’s mobility will continue to be the main question mark in his evaluation. We saw flashes of what he can do outside the pocket in the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Georgia, but scouts want to see more of it. And that includes throwing on the run and extending the play. Can he create when things break down with consistency?

The only mistakes I saw on Wednesday from Stroud came on a pair of passes when he was rolling to his left. They were a bit off-target. But that’s not his strength, and it’s an area he can keep working on as he develops as a rookie. And he did look more effective throwing on the move to his right side.

Stroud did not run the 40-yard dash at his pro day, and he didn’t run it at the combine earlier this month, either. We won’t have the timed speed datapoint for him before the draft, but he appears to have good speed for the position on tape. We just didn’t see enough of it at Ohio State. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Stroud never had more than eight rushes in a game in his career (not including sacks). And in 28 career games, he rushed for just 136 yards. For context, 18 different NFL QBs had more rushing yards than that last season alone.

Panthers’ intrigue at No. 1

Pro days are just one small part of the pre-draft process for prospects, but Stroud is certainly doing everything he can in the battle to be the No. 1 pick. It’s no surprise that the Carolina Panthers — who hold that top pick — had a large presence at Ohio State on Wednesday. I was told 18 people from the organization were on-site. Owner David Tepper and his wife, Nicole, were both in attendance, as were new coach Frank Reich, general manager Scott Fitterer, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and passing game coordinator Parks Frazier. Stroud had dinner with the Panthers’ group on Tuesday night.

It’s not often we see owners at pro day workouts, but before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that Tepper and Co. will continue on to the pro days for the rest of the top QBs, including Young’s workout on Thursday in Alabama. This group is focused on solving the quarterback issue in Carolina.



Will C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young start immediately in the NFL?

Sal Paolantonio and Mel Kiper Jr. examine what C.J. Stroud’s and Bryce Young’s roles could look like in the NFL.

One interesting thing regarding the Panthers is Reich’s history with quarterbacks. He has worked solely with big-framed passers who thrive from within the pocket. The list includes Peyton Manning (6-5), Philip Rivers (6-5), Carson Wentz (6-5), Nick Foles (6-6), Andrew Luck (6-4), Jacoby Brissett (6-4) and Matt Ryan (6-4). It’s not super rare to work with taller quarterbacks, but it’s another nugget. Perhaps it comes into play in the team’s decision, as Carolina chooses between the 6-foot-3 Stroud, 5-foot-10 Young, 6-foot-4 Richardson and 6-foot-4 Levis.

We also need to be prepared for Carolina to float rumors about different people within the organization having infatuations with each of the four top quarterbacks over the next few weeks. Could the Panthers even be putting pressure on the Texans, attempting to force Houston into trading up for the No. 1 pick and recovering some of the lost draft capital from their move up the board in early March? Anything is possible as Carolina does its homework on all four guys.

Bonus: Smith-Njigba looked great

Of course, Ohio State’s top-tier draft prospects go well beyond just Stroud. I was impressed with receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba on Wednesday. He hadn’t run a 40-yard dash at the combine but turned in a 4.50 at the pro day — a solid time. Remember, he also had the fastest three-cone drill (6.57 seconds) and short shuttle (3.93 seconds) among receivers at the combine, demonstrating his elite change-of-direction ability.

Ohio State offensive coordinator and receivers coach Brian Hartline said that JSN could be the best of the receiver group to come out of Columbus in recent years, high praise considering Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are also part of that list. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Smith-Njigba ends up the first receiver off the board in April.

Source: ESPN

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