Road to QB1: CJ Stroud

Breaking down how CJ Stroud can become the fantasy QB1 in his second season
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Despite a shaky preseason, CJ Stroud put together a historic rookie season leading to a QB11 finish while leading Houston to a surprising 10-7 season to win the AFC South. Now entering his second season at just 22 years old, Stroud is primed for an even bigger year with the successful offseason the front office managed to obtain.

Houston's first big move came a week before free agency began in March when Nick Caserio surprised everyone by trading for former Bengals running back Joe Mixon. Just one month later, the team made an even bigger move by negotiating another trade, this time to acquire star receiver Stefon Diggs from Buffalo.

The additional starpower is only expected to boost the production of Stroud, who recorded 4,108 passing yards and 23 touchdowns to just five interceptions in his inaugural season. His stellar season peaked in Week 9 when the former no. 2 overall pick broke the NFL rookie record for most passing yards and touchdowns in a single game with 470 yards and five touchdowns against Tampa Bay.

Stroud's standout debut season engineered a third-year breakout from Nico Collins — who posted his first 1,000-yard season to lead the team — and an equally impressive rookie performance from Tank Dell. With most of Houston's cornerstone pieces still under 25, the team has given its fans hope for the first time since the infamous DeShaun Watson era.

How CJ Stroud can become the fantasy QB1

From just an initial glance on paper, Stroud has a great deal of room for improvement in 2024. While his rookie season stats are impressive, the assets Houston acquired during the offseason will almost certainly lead to more passing volume.

While the team addressed its biggest weakness in their running game by obtaining Joe Mixon, the former Bengal will be entering his age-27 season with significant tread on his tires ahead of his eighth year as a professional. The intention of the trade appears to be opening up the offense for Stroud rather than using Mixon as a bell cow, which will only benefit the quarterback's fantasy appeal.

The Texans' trade for Stefon Diggs feels much more impactful, further indicating their intention of unleashing Stroud. Though the elite route runner is not likely to see the 160 targets he collected in 2023 from Josh Allen, his presence on the field, particularly in the red zone, for the entire offense.

The major concern for Stroud will be with the Houston offensive line that is projected as a bottom-10 unit by PFF. Only two starters from 2023 will return — Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason — though Tytus Howard is expected to reclaim the right tackle position after suffering a season-ending injury in November 2023.

Per StatMuse, the 2023 offensive line allowed Stroud to be sacked 38 times, eighth most in the NFL. The unit will now rely on significant improvement from Juice Scruggs and Kenyon Green on the interior, neither of whom has been impressive in their limited snap count.

Aside from his pass protection, Stroud's biggest room for fantasy improvement will be on the scoring end. Despite finishing eighth in the league in passing yards, the former Buckeye's 23 touchdowns were good for just 13th in the league. Given his lack of rushing upside — with only 167 rushing yards in 2023 — the touchdown total will need to be in the mid to high 30s for Stroud to top the output of his peers.

Stroud showed glimpses of big-play potential, as evidenced by his five-touchdown game in Week 9, but lacked the consistency that could have led to a top-five finish. Not much more could have been expected from a rookie, but his expectations will be considerably higher in 2024.

As a traditional pocket passer, he will never provide the rushing output to match the modern fantasy quarterback, but his sheer passing volume gives him the QB1 potential. Stroud's current ADP of 46 may be a number managers will look back on at the end of the year in shock.