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Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud is off to a sizzling start

As rookie sets NFL records, quarterbacks coach Quincy Avery recalls he saw success coming when he was a teen

Only three games into his pro career, Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud has performed as if he’s been in the NFL for a minute now.

Off to a great start, the poised-beyond-his experience rookie passer is coming off of his first victory, and Stroud has appeared as steady off the field as he has on it. Texans officials are downright giddy about the player whom they selected second overall in the 2023 NFL draft, and they’re confident Stroud will be the cornerstone of the team’s long-awaited turnaround.

Quincy Avery saw it coming.

Before the season, the renowned quarterback coach, who first worked with Stroud when Stroud was a teenager, expressed confidence that the former Ohio State star possessed the tools that would enable him to deliver from the start for Houston. For Avery, the future was a clear as the tight spiral on Stroud’s deep balls.

“C.J. has started about as well as you could start as a rookie quarterback, especially with the abundance of those throws that [Houston’s coaching staff] is asking him to make early on in the season,” Avery said this week in a phone interview with Andscape. Despite Stroud’s inexperience, “he’s probably playing at a higher level than most [NFL] quarterbacks at any time of their careers.”

“C.J. has been great with the football … but you also see how great he’s been out there leading that team and putting so much on himself. The leadership is a big part of it and guys [Stroud’s teammates] see that. You’re looking at a team that really just doesn’t have a lot of talent right now. But C.J. isn’t worrying about that. He’s doing everything he can … and he’s making them look good.”

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud celebrates a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Stadium on Sept. 24 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Mike Carlson/Getty Images

With Stroud at the controls, the Texans looked marvelous on the road in Week 3.

In directing visiting Houston (1-2) to a surprising 37-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2), Stroud completed 20 passes in 30 attempts, totaled 280 passing yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. And the thing is, the Texans weren’t in the least bit surprised.

During his first three games, Stroud produced 906 passing yards, marking the third-highest total for a rookie signal-caller since 1970. On the impressive list, only Cam Newton (1,012) and Justin Herbert (931) are ahead of him. Stroud’s 121 pass attempts without an interception are the most through a passer’s first three career starts, breaking the mark established by Hall of Famer Warren Moon (103) in 1984.

For a rookie quarterback to have eclipsed a record set by Moon, well, that’s yet another example of the fact that Stroud’s doing a whole lot correctly.

While fellow rookie quarterbacks Bryce Young (whom the Carolina Panthers selected one pick ahead of Stroud) and Anthony Richardson (chosen fourth overall by the Indianapolis Colts) have struggled to gain their footing while dealing with injuries, Stroud has had the look of an old hand early on. As Houston’s coaches and players celebrated in the locker room after the victory over the Jaguars, tight end Brevin Jordan succinctly summed up the excitement about Stroud in the organization from the front office to the field, telling ESPN, “we drafted the right guy. Man, he’s a leader. He’s a phenomenal player and a phenomenal guy. … Dude, he’s unbelievable.”

Again, none of that came as news to Avery.

He first noticed Stroud’s potential while observing the future NFL first-round draft pick during a camp for elite high school quarterbacks. Then only 17, Stroud stood out among the best of the best, Avery said, largely because of his determination to succeed.

“C.J. is just so diligent in his work ethic,” said Avery, who has tutored Pro Bowl passers Jalen Hurts, Geno Smith and Deshaun Watson, among others. “There are just very few people who work as hard as C.J., and you really saw it when he was 17. When he came into [the quarterback camp], nobody really looked at him like, ‘Oh, man, this guy is gonna be superspecial.’ He came into the situation where we’re [the camp coaches] all like, ‘He might be OK.’ Then, he absolutely dominated. And every quarterback was there. Guys you see playing in the league now, like Bryce Young.

“Just think of all the guys we saw drafted this year … they were all there. And C.J. just took over. Actually, he was on the same [camp] team with Bryce [Young]. So we really didn’t anticipate C.J. playing that much. He ended up playing the whole time because he was playing so well. He attacked the day, he attacked every opportunity, and he took full advantage of everything, which is exactly what he has done since then. At Ohio State, C.J. did the same thing. He just keeps attacking. Now that he’s in the NFL, he’s just continued that. When someone prepares as hard as C.J. does, is just so diligent in their work ethic, that’s when you see the fruits of that labor. We’re seeing it early on with him.”

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud prepares to pass during the first quarter of a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Stadium on Sept. 24 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

On offense, the Texans have made no secret on whom they’re leaning. In Stroud’s first three starts, he attempted 30, 47 and 44 passes, respectively.

“He’s approaching like 50 passes in games, and not is just a ‘dink-and-dunk’ offense,” Avery said. “He’s pushing the ball down field. He’s creating at the second level [against opposing defenses]. He’s moving effectively in the pocket.

“These were all things that some people said he might not be able to do at the next level [while he was in college]. But he’s doing all of it. He’s doing all of that and still being able to make the throws. But anyone who really knows C.J. would never have doubted he could do it.”

Around the NFL these days, good luck finding anyone who would express doubts about Stroud’s performance. The early returns have simply been that good.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.