Why C.J. Stroud Comps Include Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, and Matt Ryan

C.J. Stroud could be the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, so it's not crazy to see him comped to other former top picks. Or is it?

The 2023 NFL Draft swiftly approaches, and with it comes a wave of information surrounding the top QBs in the class. What are their floors/ceilings? Are they good leaders? Are they accurate or athletic enough to be high-level playmakers at the next level? Do they possess the arm talent necessary to thrive? And with the never-ending battle to gather and distribute information, player comps become an easy way to describe a player using only a first and last name. C.J. Stroud is not immune to the exercise.

Are they always good? Certainly not. In fact, the comparisons are often very flawed. So while the exercise is nice for the casual fan to get a simple picture painted, it’s more like abstract art to the sect of NFL fandom that somehow acquires All-22 to watch prospects for themselves. And it often comes with criticism.

It’s important to dissect each one. Why did the analyst make the comparison? Why does it make sense, and where does it fall flat? Sometimes there’s a better or worse comparison, and sometimes they each have significant flaws that force us to look outside the box and compare parts of two or three players.

C.J. Stroud NFL Comps

One thing has been made abundantly clear with the player comparisons made for Stroud. He is certainly considered a pocket passer in the eyes of the league. And while that’s become a bit of a derogatory term as of late, we must also acknowledge that the pocket passers of today are not like those from even a decade ago.

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If you can’t move, you won’t survive in the NFL unless you’re operating in perfect conditions. Jared Goff is a good example of that. Interestingly enough, Goff is one of the popular comps for Stroud. Stroud’s also been likened to Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, and Geno Smith, which is another comp that would have been met with distaste just 12 months ago.

So what makes sense for Stroud, and what falls short?

Dak Prescott

All things considered, this is probably the most complete comp you’ll find for Stroud, in both positive and negative aspects.

With Tom Brady officially retired, Prescott is the league’s best pure pocket passer. And though he can create a bit outside of structure, he’d much prefer to stay and win in rhythm from the pocket. That’s exactly how Stroud prefers to win.

Prescott has more than enough arm to rifle passes into tight windows over the middle of the field, something that Stroud has also displayed during his time with the Buckeyes. However, nobody would mistake either player’s arm with Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen.

The middle of the field is an area of strength for both QBs as well. In 2022, Prescott and his receivers struggled to be on the same wavelength at times over the middle, but he’s been an assassin in that area for a few seasons now. Likewise, Stroud is lethal, layering passes in underneath safeties and overtop linebackers, using just the right trajectory to keep passes out of harm’s way.

Additionally, Prescott is lauded for his pre-snap prowess and post-snap processing in rhythm, something that takes an immense amount of confidence in one’s surroundings to do. Stroud had that confidence in spades. His recognition in Ohio State’s intermediate-heavy passing attack allowed him to show off his ability to make NFL reads and throws with precision and anticipation.

Why C.J. Stroud Comps Include Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, and Matt Ryan
Jan 16, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half during the wild card game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Early on, Prescott had inconsistencies with how he handled pressure, although he’s since become one of the league’s best at avoiding sacks. The same can be said for Stroud, who shows flashes of toughness and creativity but also bad habits. Prescott used to default to a spin, in order to roll back and out to the left in an attempt to create. SEVERAL college QBs default to that, and Stroud falls victim to the habit too often.

But when he’s locked in, performances like Michigan and Georgia happen.

That’s another area Stroud shares with Prescott. Although the Cowboys’ QB is a better passer on the move, particularly when rolling left, than Stroud, both quarterbacks have the requisite athleticism to be a danger on the ground — as passers and runners. Prescott was more mobile before his ankle injury, but the timidness to drop a gear and take off has actually created a more tightly knit comp to Stroud, who is a timid creator.

Prescott is thicker and was actually quite the runner at Mississippi State. That’s why for the sake of comparison, it’s fair to use elements of his game from the college level and as a current pro to accurately describe Stroud. Stroud is leaner and has a bit more pep in his step, something he showed off in his final two collegiate starts.

But Prescott is also often lauded for his leadership, something he studied in depth on his way to a master’s degree in Workforce Leadership. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day offered some insight into Stroud’s leadership last summer.

“This offseason, he’s done a great job of taking a bunch of guys on defense over to his house. He’s cooked for them,” Day said. “He’s really approached it like a coach, and that’s what leaders do, and that’s what really good quarterbacks do. For a third-year player to take that kind of approach has been great to see.”

Deshaun Watson

“I look up to Deshaun Watson a lot as somebody I feel as I have a similar playing style too,” Stroud told reporters at the NFL Combine.

Stroud had also brought up Michael Vick, which led the internet to do the internet thing, tilting its head like a dog confused about why he received less food in his bowl this time around.

But Stroud isn’t the only one to make a comp to Watson.

If Stroud had played the entire year creating in the way he did in his final two games, maybe there’d be no debate about the first pick in the draft, and we wouldn’t incessantly be comparing him to the closest thing we have left to statues in the NFL.

Watson creates. Watson eludes pressure like a ballroom dancer. But he also does his best to invite pressure in his playmaking endeavors. Ultimately, although Stroud has flashed creativity and believes himself to mirror Watson’s image as a player, the product he puts on the field doesn’t do much to resemble Watson.

Jared Goff and Matt Ryan

The comps to Goff and Ryan can be lumped together. It’s not that Goff and Ryan are a spitting image of one another, they’re not. Goff has a better arm than Ryan, but even at an advanced age, Ryan offers more creativity than Goff does outside the pocket.

Goff and Stroud have similar arm talent, but the latter’s release resembled Matty Ice more. When looking at Stroud from the perspective of wanting to win from the pocket at all costs and only creating when absolutely necessary, his style could be comparable to how Goff and Ryan operate on a snap-to-snap basis.

While it feels a bit unorthodox to consider their comps as No. 1 picks in their draft classes disrespectful to Stroud, they are a bit. The problem with them is that Stroud is a far greater athlete than both.

In fact, if we really wanted to dig deep and give Stroud a more fitting comparison, it’d probably be the 2022 version of Geno Smith. Because while Smith has the athleticism to create, he is very much a pocket passer by trade. And like Stroud, he’s accurate to all three levels of the field, an area Goff specifically falls a bit shy.

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