Even though he has yet to throw a pass in an actual college football game, C.J. Stroud has already been compared to one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson first made that comparison during an appearance on Big Ten Network earlier this month, when he likened Stroud’s ability to throw the deep ball to Russell Wilson. He explained that comparison in further detail during an interview session at Ohio State on Wednesday.
“That comparison came about because Russell Wilson throws the best deep ball to me, him or Aaron Rodgers,” Garrett Wilson said. “And just the way the ball lands, like falls on the receiver, it makes it so you can choose how to play those types of balls. So you can either let it fall over your shoulder or go up and high-point it, depending on what feels more comfortable, what you feel like gives you the best chance to make the play. And that’s one thing that as a receiver, you love having someone that drops the ball on you, versus not being able to react as much.”
Garrett Wilson specifically referenced the following 54-yard touchdown pass the Seattle Seahawks quarterback threw to D.K. Metcalf against the New England Patriots last year, on which Wilson’s deep ball dropped to Metcalf at just the right angle to beat Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Those are the kinds of throws he says Ohio State fans should expect to see from Stroud this year – and Wilson expects to have plenty of opportunities to make big plays as a result.
“If you’re a DB, you can’t really make a play on that,” Wilson said. “The way he throws it, he always gives you a chance, is the best way to put it. Sometimes a deep pass can be hard to react to if it’s on a line. So the fact that the ball falls on you gives you a better chance to make the catch, easier to react to.”
While Thursday’s season opener at Minnesota will be the first time Stroud attempts a pass in an Ohio State game that counts, there have been a few glimpses of that deep-ball throwing ability this offseason. One came in Ohio State’s spring game, when he connected with Chris Olave on a 40-yard downfield strike:
He threw some beautiful deep balls during the portions of practice that were open to the media in preseason camp, too, like this one he floated to Jaxon Smith-Njigba to beat tight coverage from Lathan Ransom:
C.J. Stroud to Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Hello. pic.twitter.com/QKTmvLAyCT— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) August 10, 2021
Like Wilson, Olave and Smith-Njigba expect Stroud to make plenty more throws like that during the season.
“C.J.’s a rare talent, I believe,” Olave said. “His arm talent’s off the charts, so he’s gonna put the ball there where we need it. We just gotta make plays on our side.”
Smith-Njigba described Ohio State’s new starting quarterback as “a competitor, a fighter, a guy who just wants to win and can sling the ball.”
“He can put it places where defenders can’t get to it,” Smith-Njigba said. “He’s always been a competitor. That’s what I love about him. And he’s gotten way physically stronger. So his arm, he can sling it.”
Julian Fleming said Stroud is “very consistent” with putting the ball where Ohio State’s wide receivers have a chance to make a play on it and defenders can’t.
“I feel like he just gives you a chance,” Fleming said. “On any throw, he’s gonna give you a chance where you can make the play, and you get to make what you want of it, so you can either make that play or you can’t. But regardless, he’s gonna put you in a position to constantly make a play and the defense not to.”
Ohio State’s wide receivers are confident Stroud can make any throw on the field. Both Olave and Wilson said Stroud is more of a pocket passer than Justin Fields, so they don’t expect Stroud to make as many plays with his legs as Fields did. But they aren’t expecting any drop-off in the passing game.
“I got all the confidence in C.J.,” Olave said. “I believe in him, just like I believe in Justin, so I believe in him making the right throws and the right reads, and he’s gonna do that.”
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline is also confident Stroud will set his receivers up to succeed, and what’s impressed him even more than Stroud’s physical ability to throw the ball has been Stroud’s demeanor during practices.
“I think the most impressive thing with C.J., again not being in the room and hearing all the questions and answers and all that, has just been his calm and his poise,” Hartline said. “I haven’t seen any rattle from him. It’s just very mature of him. I think he is able to hit a throw, be happy about it; miss a throw, move on to the next throw. And still hold himself accountable.
“So our job is to always be in the right spot at the right time and be uncovered. I would say that C.J. absolutely has elevated our game, and we are a better room because of him playing quarterback.”
Olave, Wilson, Smith-Njigba and Fleming have seen Stroud grow over the past couple of years since he arrived at Ohio State in January 2020, and they’ve seen their new quarterback become more mature and step up as a leader in the process. So even though he’s entirely unproven as a college quarterback entering the 2021 season, the Buckeye receivers fully expect Stroud to be prepared for the spotlight that’s coming his way.
“He’s only been here two years, so for him taking on the role like he has this offseason and this fall camp, it’s been huge,” Wilson said. “He knows it too that he’s took a huge couple steps these past couple months. So I can’t wait to see how he takes it on as a first-game starter.”