Four games into the NFL season, CJ Stroud’s draft assessment of himself was the only thing more accurate than his completion percentage, more flawless than his touchdown-to-interception ratio, and more impressive than the Houston Texans’ sudden resurgence in the AFC South.
“I’m not a test taker. I play football.”
Those were Stroud’s own words the week before the NFL Draft last April, just days after his supposedly poor results on an S2 cognitive test were widely reported in league offices. Intended to serve as a measure of a player’s responsiveness in various learning landscapes as well as his ability to process and improvise, Stroud was reported to have gone a distant third among the draft’s “big three” quarterbacks who were expected to be among the top -5 picks also included Alabama’s Bryce Young and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
Your supposed percentile scores from highest to lowest Sources who spoke with Bob McGinn of GoLongTD.com: Young at 98 percent; Richardson at 79 percent and Stroud at 18 percent. Not a single evaluator with knowledge of the S2 results disputed these numbers to Yahoo Sports – and a handful confirmed that this was the order of the rankings, with Young scoring highest, Richardson second and Stroud trailing in a way that was for frown caused.
In hindsight, that’s a pretty remarkable stack. And if you turn it on its head, you could very easily argue that this is the current performance rating of the trio of rookie quarterbacks through four games of the NFL season – with Stroud at the helm, Richardson a strong second and Young along Distance in third place. In the NFL, taking tests is what you do on the field, and the guy in the 98th percentile is playing in Houston.
Through four games, Stroud’s 1,212 passing yards are the second-most in NFL history for a rookie, second only to Cam Newton’s 1,386 in his epic debut with the Carolina Panthers in 2016. Arguably even more impressive, he has six touchdowns has thrown to zero interceptions despite playing behind a broken offensive line – not to mention a variety of receiving options that most would rank in the bottom third of the league. That all pales in comparison to what he’s helped the Texans become over the last two weeks: A real threat to the AFC South after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in Week 3 and then returning to Houston to face the Pittsburgh Steelers beat 30-6 on Sunday.
While it all boils down to a modest 2-2 start, the Texans internally were delighted to see Stroud take charge so quickly, especially since their offensive line was a bit of a mess and they had to start a rookie on the road against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1. But in four Playing, Houston’s coaches and executives saw exactly what they thought they were designing. Namely, an experienced and sophisticated passer who can accurately make all the necessary throws, control the pocket, read the defense and play confident football in the middle of an offense that is still developing.
Basically, play like a soccer player and not like a test taker.
“I think it started a long time ago [top] 30 visit when I came and sat right in that area and I poured my heart out to the coaches,” Stroud said on Sunday. “They poured out their hearts to me, let me know what they wanted in a quarterback … and I gave them what I thought I wanted.” Every day I feel like God gave me the ability to do this every day mentality and attitude. So it was a blessing. I think it’s really cool when you see the work pay off a little bit, but for me this is just the beginning.”
As much as these four games were a beginning for Stroud, it’s worth wondering whether it’s the beginning of the end of the S2 cognitive test as a piercing beacon illuminating which quarterbacks can succeed and which can’t. Several executives and coaches praised the S2 during the design process – but most realized it was just one part of a larger whole and was not intended as a comprehensive tool for predicting success. Some of the statements quoted in McGinn’s post seemed to leave far less wiggle room for the scores.
One of the executives quoted by McGinn said: “The S2 people will say, ‘Hey, people who did well on this test don’t always play well.’ But we’ve never had anyone who had a bad grade and played well.'”
Added another in the same article: “Stroud scored 18 points. It’s like red alert, red alert, you can’t stand a guy like that.” That’s why I have Stroud as a bust. With that in mind, name one quarterback from Ohio who ever made it in the league.”
While four games is hardly a measure of career success or failure, Stroud’s start is at least a convincing first-round rejoinder to his critics. It also lines up with what many executives told Yahoo Sports about the S2 in late April — when most downplayed it as a clearinghouse for bad quarterbacks. That was much the same sentiment shared on Sunday evening after another strong performance from Stroud.
“It’s just a block of information – just like the Wonderlic [scouting] Combine performance, pro day meetings, private meetings, film and a number of other things that go into a quarterback evaluation,” an AFC executive said. “You’ll never know who makes it and who doesn’t, and if someone says that, I would be discounting that person’s ability to recruit good players. Particularly good quarterbacks.”
So what does Stroud’s start say about his supposedly low S2 score?
“The sample size wasn’t enough to crown them the kings of quarterback ratings,” one scout said — pointing out that the S2 is a relatively new benchmark in the draft process.
Another scout said, “It’s a puzzle piece.”
Four games into Stroud’s career, it’s already looking like a piece that doesn’t fit. While the rest of the puzzle fits together quite nicely.