Prepare yourselves, because the Bryce Young vs. C.J. Stroud debate will rage on from now until the 2023 NFL Draft and through their hyped careers as professionals. Before the start of their respective 2022 seasons, it feels like the draft community is split on the reigning Heisman winner from Alabama and Ohio State's budding star passer.
In my scouting grade book, I evaluate quarterbacks on the following categories (listed in order of importance and weight): Accuracy, Athleticism, Arm Strength, Pocket Management, and Field Reading. To give more layers to the debate, let's run through each category and pick which quarterback, Young or Stroud, has the advantage right now.
Accuracy is still king at the quarterback position. An explosive athletic profile or bazooka arm can quickly be rendered useless if ball placement is erratic. Both Young and Stroud proved in their debut college seasons they guide the football with precision at all levels.
Stroud's 79% adjusted completion percentage was the seventh-highest among all qualifying quarterbacks last season. Young was close behind in 10th place at 78.1%. And it's not as if either passer padded his stats with a litany of short throws that are high percentage by nature. Young attempted the 10th-most deep balls (passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield) in 2021, and Stroud ripped 121 throws at the intermediate level, the seventh-most in FBS.
And the advanced statistics don't lie here -- in watching extensive Young and Stroud film this summer, I came away slightly more impressed with the surgical accuracy from the Ohio State quarterback. This most vital element of succeeding at the quarterback position is a noticeable strength for both passers.
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This category represents the largest disparity between these two phenoms. Young is not quite Kyler Murray athletically, but there were Murrayian moments of stellar suddenness while improvising and deceptive speed in space. Because college football idiotically counts sacks against a quarterback's rushing yardage, classic statistics hardly ever tell the story of how good of a runner a quarterback is. Young's film showcases his athletic prowess as a smaller, twitchy quarterback. He's elusive too. As for Stroud, it's not as if he's immobile or plays as a pocket-passer only, it's just that he's simply not as dynamic when needing to ad-lib late in a play.
Size does not automatically translate to arm strength, but in most cases, the bigger quarterbacks have an arm-strength advantage over their shorter contemporaries. The latter rings true with Stroud and Young. While the ball rarely lacks velocity -- when needed -- on Young's passes, Stroud's delivery has a wider arc, therefore it generates more speed. And the faster the arm moves, the faster the football comes out of the hand.
Stroud's flick is effortless. While I'm not ready to place him in the Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert tier of arm strength, Stroud's arm appeared to be plenty good enough last season to be translate to the NFL where big-time throw ability is the greatest separator of quarterbacks in today's professional game. This is the second-biggest disparity between Young and Stroud, with the Buckeyes passer on top.
Relative to their youthfulness and inexperience, Stroud and Young demonstrated acknowledgement of how vital it is to bounce away from pressure inside the pocket in their 2021 seasons as full-time starters. Now, neither is Tom Brady or in-his-prime Drew Brees at the subtle pocket drift, but I'd categorize their pocket management as more strengths of their games than liabilities right now. There certainly were instances in which both got overanxious and either ran into pressure that wasn't originally there or vacated a clean pocket much too soon. Neither was clearly better than they other. They'll head into the 2022 campaign carrying the same pocket management grade in my scouting grade book.
Stroud is more of a classic pocket passer. He wants to survey, diagnose, and examine how route concepts are interacting with coverages on every play. Young plays with more bounce, and a willingness to get outside the confines of the tackle box before releasing the football. They both operated well beyond their years last season from a field-reading perspective. I did not notice either routinely being fooled by complex coverages.