HOUSTON – Test scores have long been a part of the NFL draft evaluation process. Ultimately, smart teams focus much more on players’ skills, character, personality and scheme fit over logic tests like the Wonderlic and a newer cognitive test called the S2 that is intended to measure decision-making ability.
In the case of Texans star rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, his low test score of 18 on the S2 test followed by a subsequent 13 on a retake hasn’t mattered at all. While Carolina Panthers’ top overall pick Bryce Young scored a 98 on the exam followed by a 96 for Tennessee Titans rookie Will Levis and a 79 for Indianapolis Colts rookie Anthony Richardson, Stroud, who said in April he’s a football player, “not a test taker,” has outshined all of them and is the clear frontrunner to be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“At the end of the day, I don’t get nothing to prove to nobody,” Stroud said before the Texans selected him with the second overall pick. “I’m not about to sit here and explain to somebody how I process football. The people who are making the picks know what I can do. That’s all that matters to me. If I am not the smartest quarterback in this draft, I know I am one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL when I step in there. I don’t think you can play at Ohio State and not be smart. If you don’t trust and believe in me, all I can tell you is watch this.”
Stroud is coming off an NFL rookie record 470 passing yards and five touchdown pass performance in a dramatic 39-37 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Stroud has backed up those words and much more. The test was meaningless. The Texans couldn’t be happier with how Stroud has performed and his interactions with players, coaches, staff, and in the community. He has been poised on the field, friendly, approachable, and hard-working in the building. Stroud has checked every box and is making a convincing case to consider him one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL regardless of experience. The 22-year-old California native has been incredibly accurate and shown off his prodigious arm talent.
In a conference call with Houston reporters, Texans executive director of player personnel James Liipfert, a former New England Patriots scout who works in tandem with general manager Nick Caserio on the draft and other personnel matters, addressed the S2 test for Stroud. The takeaway: the Texans focused on getting to know Stroud and watching the tape of the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist from Ohio State and didn’t give weight to the test score.
“Certainly, it was hard to not hear all that stuff,” Liipfert said. “Honestly, I think that we leaned on our coaching staff, on our scouting staff. Going back to the fall exposures that we had of him, we thought he played well all season, the way that they spoke about him in the building. And he was in a pretty unique situation. He came in during COVID-19 as a backup, you go from eastern Los Angeles to Columbus. The way that he sort of matured from 20 to 21 to 22, so we kind of have the personal side of things The box is checked in that regard. Then we just watch the guy play football. We watched every throw that he had in his two years as a starter and looked at it through our lens as the Houston Texans, our offense.”
Stroud visited the Texans’ training facility at NRG Stadium. Liipfert and other scouts attended his campus workout in Columbus and they met with him at the NFL scouting combine. They had a lot of exposure to him, including Caserio, Liipfert, coach DeMeco Ryans, and offensive coaches Bobby Slowik, Jerrod Johnson, Shane Day, and Bill Lazor. Johnson had a long background with Stroud going back to high school coaching him at an Elite 11 competition.
“I just thought that wouldn’t have been fair to our building to place a lot of stock in something instead of placing stock in how we felt, what we saw,” Liipfert said. “Multiple exposures to him, whether it’s 30 visits or Zooms or watching film with him. I think anybody at Ohio State, no one watched more film than C.J. and C.J. loves, loves football. We just thought that whatever opportunity he was given, he was going to make the most of and he was going to maximize his ability, and he’s done a nice job. It all comes back to he’s a tough, smart, competitive, mature, young man and those are just really good places to start. To answer your question, we just tried not to get too caught up in things that ultimately didn’t matter.”
Stroud has passed for 2,270 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception for the 4-4 Texans, a surprise playoff contender, and is on pace to pass for 4,824 yards, 30 touchdowns, and two interceptions.
“He certainly played well,” Liipfert said. “I tend to go into it just knowing that these guys are going to play their butt off and that you hope you brought in the right type of people for the building. I think what you want to do is any player, whether they’re an undrafted free agent or a rookie, you just want to hope these guys get acclimated to the program as quickly as possible and speaking on behalf of the scouting department, more so you just hope that ‘Hey, did we get the person right? Is this guy a good fit for our building? Do the coaches like coaching him?”
Another topic surrounding Stroud that Liipfert discussed was the background of other Ohio State quarterbacks and if that factored into their evaluation of him. Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields, a former Buckeyes standout, has excelled as a runner and has not been the most consistent passer or durable. The late Dwayne Haskins bounced around the league but was starting to make strides with the Pittsburgh Steelers when he tragically died in an accident on a Florida highway. There haven’t been a lot of success stories for Ohio State quarterbacks, but Stroud is changing that narrative rapidly.
“Honestly, I would throw it out the window,” Liipfert said. “We get to use the Ohio State quarterback example. Even if it was a positive connotation, I know it was a bit of a, call it ‘stigma,’ with certain success levels of past players in the past. But, with C.J., I just don’t think it would be fair to C.J. or whoever to hold people from years before against them. All we did was evaluate the player, talk to as many people as we possibly could, and get to know him at as many touchpoints as we possibly could. I was proud of the department and the level of detail, really, that goes into all your draft picks.
“Certainly, when you are potentially going to take someone that high – and you know the level of investment that comes with a guy like that, you do your homework. And your question, being C.J.-based, we became so very comfortable and interested in him as a person. The more that we got to know about him, man, he’s an awesome young man who’s fought through a lot of different points of adversity. And just forgetting about the football player for a second, I just thought he was a cool dude after we spent some real time with him. Man, we just throw that out the window. We evaluate No. 7 that was in the 2023 draft class, and that’s all we can do.”
The Texans selected Alabama defensive end Will Anderson Jr. with the third overall pick after a trade with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Bronko Nagurski award and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year has made an immediate impact, starting every game for the Texans and recording 30 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses, and nine quarterback hits.
“The information we gathered on Will in the process, we started tracking him as a sophomore going into his third year anticipating him coming out early,” Liipfert said. “And you know, the way they spoke about him at Alabama, it was pretty unique. I would say Will is a unique individual. I think Will comes from great stock. I met his parents after a game here recently. He’s got great parents. Seems like his sisters are awesome.
“He’s just a really good human being. He’s a really good football player, and, not to put too much on his shoulders, he is the person that we thought he was going to be, and he just continues to improve as a football player. I think I would speak for the team when I say we’re very excited to have him in the building daily.”
Rookie wide receiver Tank Dell, a speedy third-round draft pick from the University of Houston caught two touchdown passes against the Buccaneers, including the game-winner. Although undersized at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Dell plays the game with a lot of heart and is even a willing and effective blocker. He has caught 28 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. He caught a season-high six passes for 114 yards on 11 targets against the Buccaneers. His friendship and connection with Stroud have been a big plus for the Texans.
“I would say a couple of things that jumped out with Tank was, we had the benefit of having those guys five minutes down the street and able to watch him for a couple of years.,” Liipfert said. “One thing that Tank did which showed itself I would say at the Senior Bowl was just how well he separated as a route runner. Tank is very, very quick and very sudden. Everyone likes to watch the one-on-ones and that kind of thing, but just the amount of separation he was getting out of his cuts and creating windows.
“He had been doing that for the University of Houston for a couple of years ever since he transferred in. His speed out of cuts, his ability to separate with his quickness in addition to a lot of other things, those couple of things are at the top of the list as far as positive traits that he had that we liked and kind of made him attractive to us to draft.”
The Texans still have high hopes for second-round draft pick Juice Scruggs, a center from Penn State.
Scruggs is currently on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and is close to being healthy enough to return to practice.
At Penn State, Scruggs overcame a serious car accident to become one of the top blockers in the Big Ten Conference.
Whenever Scruggs gets on the field, he’s regarded as a promising young player.
“So, Juice was a guy, and again, another very highly thought of person and player at Penn State at a program,” Liipfert said. “I was at their practice about a month ago and one of the more impressive teams that I’ve seen all season just physically because [Nittany Lions coach James] Franklin and his staff have done a good job and they are pumping out NFL guys every year. They’re going to have a lot more again this year.
“The way they spoke of him, the versatility, the center-guard, I would say the playstyle that he showed at Penn State. He trained, he played hard, he’s physical. And again, you talk about adversity, this guy is talking about ultimate adversity – probably getting close to losing your life in a car accident, and dealing with some repercussions of that. Comes back, and honestly was a better player post-injury on the college stuff. We had a really good exposure to him at the East-West Shrine game. We thought he did a really good job. He’s just a very steady, consistent, solid, tough, mature guy. When his time comes, I’m excited to watch him.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com