National Football League
After Texans QB C.J. Stroud’s historic rookie season, what to expect in Year 2?
National Football League

After Texans QB C.J. Stroud’s historic rookie season, what to expect in Year 2?

Published May. 30, 2024 2:35 p.m. ET

As a former NFL player himself, Texans coach DeMeco Ryans knows the trap second-year pros can fall into. 

Some who've had success as rookies, he explained, have rested on their laurels. They've taken their foot off the gas pedal. Oftentimes, that backfires. 

As Ryans sees it, you must work harder entering your second season. That's because opposing teams have a year's worth of your tendencies on tape. They're able to hone in on what you do well — and take it away. 

"They think they have that ‘I made it' moment," Ryans said of some successful rookies. "Nobody has ever made it."


That embodies the challenge for C.J. Stroud

After posting arguably the greatest rookie quarterback season in NFL history, he must continue to ascend in 2024. The Texans' Super Bowl-sized expectations depend on it. 

Stroud as a rookie completed 63.9% of his passes for 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 15 games. He joined Tom Brady and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks in the past 50 years to lead the NFL in passing yards per game (273.9) and touchdown-interception ratio (4.6). 

Of the five rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yards — Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert are the others — Stroud was the only one to have won a playoff game. The former Ohio State star was also the youngest starting quarterback to win in the postseason at 22 years old. 

Entering Year 2, Stroud said everything has slowed down for him. 

"I think last year, I wasn't able to do that much. I was meeting every team," he said last month of the pre-draft process. "Going through offense after offense. Meeting a new coordinator. Meeting a new head coach the next week. Then finally got here, and then everything ramped up. 

"Now, I'm coming into the same offense and I get to slow down and really get better at what we're trying to get done this next year. So I'm really excited about that."    

Why Tom Brady says Texans QB C.J. Stroud is a great teammate

He also has reinforcements to be excited about, which should help him elevate his game. 

Houston acquired perennial Pro Bowl receiver Stefon Diggs from Buffalo last month, giving Stroud one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL (Diggs, recently extended Nico Collins, Tank Dell). The team also traded for former Bengals running back Joe Mixon, who represents an upgrade over the starter last season, Devin Singletary, and should take pressure off Stroud and the passing attack. The Texans had the 23rd-ranked rushing offense last season. 

A healthy offensive line could also go a long way toward helping Stroud take the next step. 

Houston battled various injuries upfront last season. Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil missed three games due to injury. Right tackle Tytus Howard, who missed 10 games, played out of position at left guard. Former first-round pick Kenyon Green missed the entire season after suffering an injury in the preseason. Other key contributors and starters like Kendrick Green, Charlie Heck, Juice Scruggs and Jarrett Patterson all missed at least 10 games. 

But there are obstacles. Not only do teams have a full year's tape on Stroud, the Texans will also face a first-place schedule in 2024. Nine of the Texans' 11 non-division opponents this season have a defense that ranked in the top half of the league in passing EPA allowed. They have six prime-time games (four night games, a Saturday game and a Christmas game). From Weeks 15-17, they have three games in a 10-game span against AFC playoff teams from last season, including both conference finalists (Chiefs, Ravens) four days apart. 

No matter who or when the Texans play, the optimism and expectations are sky-high for 2024, mainly because of Stroud. Teammates have already seen his growth during OTAs. 

"He's definitely gotten more comfortable," veteran tight end Dalton Schultz said. "He's kind of taken that next step of being that verbal guy, that verbal leader that quarterbacks have to be." 

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Ryans is well aware of the pitfalls that second-year players can fall into. But he's also seen massive jumps from Year 1 to Year 2 — in many cases, the biggest jump of their careers. 

For the first time, they have a true offseason to work on their bodies. They don't have to worry about the combine or draft prep. They can focus on the parts of their game that need the most improvement. 

Stroud falls into that category. 

"Now, can he pick up where he left from, right?" Ryans said. "As he finished the year off, he had a strong year. But as a player, you're always your toughest critic. Can he continue to master the same thing I talked about: those techniques and fundamentals? Can he master those things to continue to lead our team in a way that he's done?"

That's the challenge for Stroud.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.


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