Sean Pendergast

C.J. Stroud vs Deshaun Watson: Whose First Four Career Starts Were More Impressive?

C.J. Stroud's first four starts might exceed Deshaun Watson's first four starts back in 2017.
C.J. Stroud's first four starts might exceed Deshaun Watson's first four starts back in 2017. Photo by Eric Sauseda
If the first four starts of C.J. Stroud's Houston Texans career feel familiar, it should. The last time a rookie quarterback captured the hearts, minds, and wallets of ticket buying, web surfing Houstonians the way Stroud has this past month happened fairly recently. It was in 2017, when Deshaun Watson took over as the Texans' starting quarterback in Week 2 of that season, defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on the road, and never looked back. Well, for a few years, at least.

Stroud has captivated not only Houston, but the entire NFL. The rookie out of Ohio State, the second overall pick in the draft, is doing things that only Hall of Famers have done in NFL history:
Good times! However, because we are human beings, and we are incapable of fully enjoying the good times while we sit smack dab in the middle of them, we need to compare! Sure, C.J. Stroud has been amazing in his first four starts, but I NEED for him to be better than Deshaun Watson in HIS first four starts. So, is he? Is "Early Rookie Stroud" better than "Early Rookie Watson"?

Let's so a "Tale of the Tape" on this important topic, shall we?

Here are the vital numbers on both guys through four games:
Deshaun Watson:
78-122 (63.9%), 970 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT, 108.3 rating, 7.95 YPA, 20-163 rushing yards, 2 rush TD

C.J. Stroud:
94-151 (62.3%), 1,212 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 100.6 rating, 8.03 YPA, 14-51 rushing yards
There is an "apples and oranges" element to these stats, as Watson was asked to do far morewith his legs than Stroud, hence the 163 rushing yards. Watson threw more touchdowns, buoyed by a five TD outburst in his fourth start against the Chiefs. Stroud continues to extend his record of the most pass attempts without an interception to begin a career. ADVANTAGE: EVEN

Both quarterbacks were 2-2 in their first four starts. For what it's worth, here were their respective schedules
WATSON: at CIN (W, 13-9), at NE (L, 36-33), vs TEN (W, 57-14), vs KC (L, 42-34)
STROUD: at BAL (L, 25-9), vs IND (L, 31-20), at JAC (W. 37-17), vs PIT (W, 30-6)
It's hard to parse out which 2-2 record was more impressive. Watson's most impressive outing may have been the three point loss to the Patriots as a two touchdown underdog. Stroud has destroyed two playoff hopefuls in the Jaguars and Steelers. ADVANTAGE: EVEN

Deshaun Watson had the single best player among both sporting casts with All Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Add in Will Fuller and Lamar Miller, and that's a solid group. The mitigating factor that helps Watson is he did what he did with Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown holding out. Meanwhile, Stroud is working with unproven prime targets of Nico Collins and Tank Dell, with some vets in the mix (Robert Woods, Dalton Schultz). The big thing that favors Stroud's start being more impressive is that he has thrown no picks and gone 2-2 behind the most patchwork offensive line in team history, due to a slew of injuries. ADVANTAGE: STROUD

The gist of this bullet point is determining which quarterback is being asked to execute a more complex offense/ Deshaun Watson, in his first four starts, was largely running the same offense he ran at Clemson. Credit Bill O'Brien for keeping things simple for Watson. It worked. Stroud is being asked to execute perhaps the most complex offensive system in football, an offense that has taken veteran quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan a full season to master. Stroud looks more than capable after one month of football. ADVANTAGE: STROUD

Which quarterback was entering the more dysfunctional situation, and thus entering a situation in which it's harder to succeed. This one is no contest. Watson was drafted onto a team who'd been in the playoffs two seasons in a row, and whose fan base was fully engaged. Stroud was joking a team whose fan base had checked out, and whose roster was still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Easterby Decimation. ADVANTAGE: STROUD

So, the verdict is in, and I am the judge, jury and executioner — the impressiveness of C.J. Stroud's career start exceeds Deshaun Watson's. It is so decreed!

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast