There is no position in team sports more influential to the outcome of a franchise's season and overall long term success than the quarterback on an NFL team. The quarterback is the face, heart, mind, soul, and conscience of his team. So when a team selects a quarterback with a top five pick in the NFL Draft, expectations are astronomical.
As we all know, for the first time since their inaugural season in 2002, the Houston Texans are rolling into the season with a rookie quarterback that they selected in the top five of the previous spring's draft. C.J. Stroud was the second overall pick in the 2023 draft, and while he has had his fair share of "teachable moments" during his first training camp and preseason, he's also made enough plays to where you can see precisely why the Texans thought so highly of him on draft night.
So, based on recent history, what SHOULD our expectations be for Stroud? After all, he is taking over a team that's won a TOTAL of 11 games the last three seasons. Patrick Mahomes typically wins 11 games EACH season. By December.
Well, let's take a look at all of the quarterbacks taken in the top five in the last decade, see how they did in Year 1 and Year 2, and see if this matches the smell test for Stroud and the Texans. By season, since 2014, here are the rookie quarterbacks taken in the top five of the draft, with their win-loss record, completion percentage, and TD to INT ratio for their first two seasons. Fourteen quarterbacks, in all!
(NOTE: Credit to my Texans pregame show colleague Robert Henslee for the detailed research! You're the man, Robert!)
NO quarterbacks drafted in the top five
TREVOR LAWRENCE, Jacksonville (1st overall)
2021: 3-14 record, 59.6 percent, 12-17 TD-to-INT
2022: 9-8 record (playoffs), 66.3 percent, 25-8 TD-to-INT
ZACH WILSON, New York Jets (2nd overall)
2021: 3-10 record, 55.6 percent, 9-11 TD-to-INT
2022: 5-4 record, 54.5 precent, 6-7 TD-to-INT
TREY LANCE, San Francisco (3rd overall)
2021: 1-1 record, 57.7 percent, 5-2 TD-to-INT
2022: 1-1 record, 48.4 percent, 0-1 TD-to-INT
JOE BURROW, Cincinnati (1st overall)
2020: 2-7-1 record, 65.3 percent, 13-5 TD-to-INT
2021: 10-6 record (Super Bowl), 70.4 percent, 34-14 TD-to-INT
TUA TAGOVAILOA, Miami (5th overall)
2020: 6-3 record, 64.1 percent, 11-5 TD-to-INT
2021: 7-5 record, 67.8 percent, 16-10 TD-to-INT
KYLER MURRAY, Arizona (1st overall)
2019: 5-10-1 record, 64.4 percent, 20-12 TD-to-INT
2020: 8-8 record, 67.2 percent, 26-12 TD-to-INT
BAKER MAYFIELD, Cleveland (1st overall)
2018: 6-7 record, 63.8 percent, 27-14 TD-to-INT
2019: 6-10 record, 59.4 percent, 22-21 TD-to-INT
SAM DARNOLD, New York Jets (3rd overall)
2018: 4-9 record, 57.7 percent, 17-15 TD-to-INT
2019: 7-6 record, 61.9 percent, 19-13 TD-to-INT
MITCHELL TRUBISKY, Chicago (2nd overall)
2017: 4-8 record, 59.4 percent, 7-7 TD-to-INT
2018: 11-3 record (playoffs), 66.6 percent, 24-12 TD-to-INT
JARED GOFF, Los Angeles Rams (1st overall)
2016: 0-7 record, 54.6 percent, 5-7 TD-to-INT
2017: 11-4 record (playoffs), 62.1 percent, 28-7 TD-to-INT
CARSON WENTZ, Philadelphia (2nd overall)
2016: 7-9 record, 62.4 percent, 16-14 TD-to-INT
2017: 11-2 record (SB champ), 60.2 percent, 33-7 TD-to-INT
JAMEIS WINSTON, Tampa Bay (1st overall)
2015: 6-10 record, 58.3 percent, 22-15 TD-to-INT
2016: 9-7 record, 60.8 percent, 28-18 TD-to-INT
MARCUS MARIOTA, Tennessee (2nd overall)
2015: 3-9 record, 62.2 percent, 19-10 TD-to-INT
2016: 8-7 record, 61.2 percent, 26-9 TD-to-INT
BLAKE BORTLES, Jacksonville (3rd overall)
2014: 3-10 record, 58.9 percent, 11-17 TD-to-INT
2015: 5-11 record, 58.6 percent, 35-18 TD-to-INT
Four quick observations from the statistics above:
4. Overall record
The overall first year record for these quarterbacks, as rookies, was 53-114-2, or about the equivalent of a 5-12 season. The second year record, on the aggregate, showed major improvement with a total ledger of 103-71, or the equivalent of a 10-7 season. That's a little scary for the upcoming season, but if Stroud is a guy who shows he's a good learner, which he has so far, then the future may be bright.
3. Playoff success
In the short term, like for 2023, it should be noted that exactly ZERO of these quarterbacks selected in the top five made the playoffs in his rookie season. NONE. So history tells us that it's safe for Texan fans to make vacation plans for January, if that's what you're into.
2. That pesky number two overall slot
This is probably more of a random thing than a trend with any substance, but the recent history of the number two spot in the draft specifically has not been great. There are four quarterbacks who were taken second overall within the above timeframe. For three of them — Mariota, Wentz, and Trubisky — the team that drafted each of them decided to replace them eventually. The fourth one, Zach Wilson, is now Aaron Rodgers' backup. Hopefully, Stroud breaks this streak.
1. The most disturbing thing about this list
Perhaps the scariest thing about this list, if you're someone who is super confident that the Texans have found their solution at quarterback for the next decade, is that a vast majority of these quarterbacks are playing for their second, or even third or fourth (what up, Baker!) team in their careers. None of the quarterbacks on this list drafted before 2019 are with their original team, and I'd bet a lot of money that Murray and Wilson, at least, will be on a second team within a year. Trey Lance is only two seasons in, and he is now a Dallas Cowboy.
In other words, finding a quarterback is an inexact science, and as excited as we all are about C.J. Stroud, history tells us that, not only will there be early struggles, but they likely won't ever end. Let's hope Stroud is the exception to the rule.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast, on Instagram at instagram.com/sean.pendergast, and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.