Magnificent 7

By Ramzy Nasrallah on April 26, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Dec 31, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) evades pressure from the Georgia Bulldogs during the second quarter of the 2022 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, his glaring weakness was bad timing.

Not with his passes, which were reliably on time. C.J. Stroud placed catchable footballs into cracked and moving windows with a casual reliability Ohio State fans had never seen in their lives, whether they had just turned nine or 99. The Buckeyes have had plenty of big arms and accurate passers - but no one with a combination like this.

His stewardship of the offense was fine and timely as well. Stroud was always both situationally aware of the down and distance as well as prepared to execute whatever the sideline was sending his way. He was always capable of moving the chains with his legs, but his maddening abandonment of rushing yards was matched only by his willingness to be coached and follow orders to preserve himself.

Maybe that would have gone differently had Justin Fields not cracked his ribcage scrambling against Clemson. However, that maybe doesn't rank among his top 10 agonizing maybes.

History will show that Stroud's glaring weakness was arriving during a - hopefully - brief and unfortunate period when delivering what Ohio State quarterbacks are required to produce was rendered next-to-impossible by what was failing all around him. A generational quarterback trapped in a transitional era.

this would be the best throw of will levis or anthony richardson's life and Stroud does it in every outing
Stroud's legacy should be how he dropped passes into his NFL-caliber wide receivers' chests with precision and regularity.

Replace any quarterback from the 11 teams that won the conference since Stroud's birth with Stroud and the Buckeyes still win the conference that season. Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, any of the Magnificent Three - Stroud could hand off or flip the ball to any of their playmakers at least as well as they could.

Conversely, it would be hard to see those legends reciprocating with the 2021 and 2022 Ohio State teams that came up short. Give those quarterbacks an afternoon with Michigan where the Buckeye defense fails to make a single goddamn stop from the 2nd quarter on and imagine the outcome. Actually, don’t do that to yourself.

Stroud’s weakness was bad timing. The only division titles, conference titles and playoff wins he was able to experience in Columbus came with him on the bench and the Buckeye defense in something better resembling its traditional form. He did his part in a manner unmatched by his predecessors.

Stroud’s reward for overdelivering without receiving any celebratory jewelry is being cast as the main character in the NFL’s annual human capital soap opera.

If you think objectively about what that means for his competitive mindset, his future employer is acquiring a quarterback with every possible, desirable measurable who has never received a coronation of any kind. Not since the Elite 11, anyway. There's no transitioning defense or rickety special teams to blow those competitions.

Half of the program's top 10 most prolific passing games belong to him, including the one in Pasadena which might never be topped - that afternoon without Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson available that's still 74 yards better anything any other Ohio State quarterback has ever produced, let alone on a stage like that.

His reward for overdelivering without receiving any celebratory jewelry is being cast as the main character in the NFL’s annual human capital soap opera. This doesn’t happen to a quarterback with his stat sheet, big stage performances and a ring.

This week Stroud is wearing his lack of trophies and titles, as well as the professional underperformance of his predecessors as a big ugly hat in the run-up to the NFL Draft. Stats, schmats - how hard could being the most prolific Ohio State quarterback possibly be?

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) and Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave (2) congratulate Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (12) after a long run during the third quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Akron Zips on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
Can Stroud adjust from always having NFL receivers at Ohio State to always having NFL receivers in the NFL? © Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch

And then there's his alleged score on a test along with a manufactured dust-up over a year-old football camp suddenly making airwaves this week. If you're thinking too hard about the validity or timing of either of those two wet farts, try to remember they’re squeezed out every year and not just at the expense of your favorite team's draftable QB.

You’re supposed to suspend belief from the 25 games Stroud played on national television and convince yourself he actually cannot make swift, correct decisions. You're supposed to buy into and advance wild theories, like that the guy who couldn't run Penn State's offense better than Sean Clifford has a higher professional ceiling.

After all, that guy led Kentucky's passing production into the top 100 nationally, exactly one spot behind Northwestern's. Anyway, it's never a bad time to remember that agents work on commission. The NFL's product will always be entertainment, disguised as football games. Especially during the off-season when there is no football, and at its most tacky with the draft approaching.

No league plays with player dignity at draft time like the NFL - even the NBA waits until guys are generationally wealthy before inserting them into its soap opera. Stroud's weakness will reach its merciful end on Thursday when he dons a hat that isn't scarlet and gray and transitions toward his next goal, which isn’t too different from his last one.

He'll set out to win a division title, a conference title and as many playoff games as possible. Stroud will finally get the chance to do that with a team where all of those things are not standard or expected every single year.

That means his NFL home should have lower expectations than his college did, where a single blemish was unconscionable.

Which means that for the first time in his football journey, CJ just might find himself in the right place at the right time. Finally.

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