HOUSTON — All it took was being in the huddle once for Houston Texans wide receiver Nico Collins to feel the franchise shifting.
Collins saw how his new quarterback operated in practice, and he knew something special was bubbling for a franchise that had won 11 games combined the three previous seasons.
The Texans made C.J. Stroud the No. 2 overall draft pick in April, and he was instrumental in Collins’ career-high 1,297 receiving yards.
“The way [Stroud] first walked in the building, you could tell he had that ‘it’ factor. You could just feel it,” Collins told ESPN in August. “When the game slows down for him and he figures out it’s just football at the end of the day, it’s going to be a scary sight. The sky’s the limit for him. I can’t wait to see it.”
Stroud is a finalist for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which will be presented at the NFL Honors awards on Thursday in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, CBS/NFL Network). First-year Texans coach DeMeco Ryans is also a finalist for Coach of the Year and defensive end Will Anderson Jr. (the club’s No. 3 pick) is a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Stroud’s campaign came with many highs and some lows, but it all resulted in him becoming just the fifth rookie to pass for 4,000 yards in a season and the first Ohio State quarterback to be named to a Pro Bowl. His connection with another rookie, receiver Tank Dell, was also prolific. They finished with the eighth-most passing yards for a first-year quarterback and wide receiver duo.
Here are some of the highlights of Stroud’s historic rookie season:
Stroud’s debut started on the road against the Baltimore Ravens. The Texans knew they were facing a tough opponent in the Ravens, who would finish as the top seed in the AFC. Stroud didn’t turn the ball over in Week 1, but the Texans also failed to score a touchdown in the 25-9 loss. Stroud threw for 244 yards.
The Texans lost 31-20 to the Indianapolis Colts, but Stroud carved up their defense by throwing for 384 yards. His connection with Collins (seven catches for 146 yards and a touchdown) began to blossom as well.
“C.J. was going through his reads and dicing them up,” Collins told ESPN after the game. “He got that leadership. There’s a reason why he got a ‘C’ on his chest. We’re gonna keep climbing.”
Stroud (21 years, 349 days) and Colts’ Anthony Richardson (21 years, 118 days old) made it the youngest combined age for a starting quarterback matchup in NFL history.
Stroud threw for 384 yards while missing four starters on the offensive line, the second most by a player age 21 or younger since the merger (1970), trailing only quarterback Matthew Stafford (422 yards) in 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Stroud earned his first win came against the reigning AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans led the entire game, and Stroud threw for 280 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 37-17 victory.
“We drafted the right guy,” tight end Brevin Jordan said after the game.
Stroud became the first quarterback to have at least 900 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first three career starts. On Oct. 1, Stroud threw for 306 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions as the Texans beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-6. The win marked the first time that Houston had at least a .500 record this deep into the season (Week 4) since 2019. Stroud became the first rookie since the 1970 merger with 250 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in three straight games.
Houston’s offense sputtered on the road against the Atlanta Falcons, but Stroud believed the Texans could still pull off a win in the fourth quarter. After falling behind 18-12 with 6:56 remaining, he told the offensive players, “We’re going to go down and score.”
Stroud delivered a go-ahead touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz to put the Texans up 19-18 with 1:49 remaining. Despite the heroics, the Falcons kicked a last-second field goal to win 21-19.
Stroud set a record for most attempts without an interception to start a career (186), surpassing Dak Prescott (176 attempts in 2016).
Stroud became the first quarterback to go without an interception in his first five starts since 1950, when quarterback starts were first tracked (minimum 30 attempts in each game).
Stroud had his first passing performance (199) under 200 yards and threw his first interception against the New Orleans Saints. He finished with two touchdowns and helped the Texans record their third win.
“This a quarterback league, and we got it we got a good quarterback,” safety Jimmie Ward told ESPN after the game.
Coming off a loss to the winless Carolina Panthers in Week 8, Stroud knew he wasn’t playing his best and said the Texans had the talent to be a “top five offense.”
In Week 9 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it looked like they were out to justify his words. Stroud threw for 470 yards (the most of any quarterback in the season) and five touchdowns — the most important one came with 10 seconds left. With the Texans trailing 33-37 with 46 seconds remaining, Stroud led the offense on a 75-yard drive and connected with Dell for the winner.
Stroud’s 470 passing yards were the most by a rookie.
Stroud became the sixth player to record at least 450 passing yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game.
The Texans went on the road and ended the Cincinnati Bengals’ four-game winning streak. Stroud threw for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception while leading a winning drive to defeat the Bengals 33-30. Stroud also threw his only interception on the road.
Stroud became the first rookie quarterback in the past 40 years to lead his team on winning drives in the final two minutes of regulation in consecutive weeks.
Stroud’s 826 passing yards in Weeks 9 and 10 were the most by a rookie over a two-game span.
Despite the 21-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Stroud had his only multiple interception game of the season. He finished with 336 passing yards (his fourth most on the season), two touchdowns and three interceptions. He didn’t throw an interception from this point on (including the playoffs).
Stroud joined Joe Burrow (2020) as the second rookie to record three consecutive 300-yard passing games.
Stroud threw for 259 yards in the first half, marking the third time he had 250 passing yards in a half, the most by a rookie in history.
The Texans were 6-4 with a chance to sweep the Jaguars (7-3) and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker in the AFC South after knocking them off in Week 3.
However, the Texans fell short 24-21, as Matt Ammendola — who was kicking in place of an injured Ka’imi Fairbairn — missed a tying 58-yard field goal with 34 seconds left. Stroud still threw for 304 yards with three touchdowns in the loss.
The visiting Denver Broncos were on a five-game winning streak and battling for a potential wild-card spot while the Texans were trying to keep pace with the Jaguars.
The Texans lost Dell to a lower leg injury in the first quarter, ending his season. Stroud finished with 274 passing yards and connected with Collins for 191 of those and a touchdown to snap the Broncos’ winning streak.
Stroud overtook Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell as the league’s passing leader (3,540) despite having one fewer game played.
Since the merger, this was the latest (Week 13) in a season that any rookie led the NFL in passing yards.
Entering the week, Stroud was averaging 295 passing yards and on pace for 5,015 yards, which would have shattered Andrew Luck’s rookie record (4,374 in 2012).
But the New York Jets stifled Stroud, who had 91 yards late in the fourth quarter before defensive tackle Quinnen Williams slammed him to the turf, causing him to leave the game after showing signs of a concussion. Stroud would miss the next two games, leaving him 743 yards shy of Luck’s record with two games remaining.
The stakes in this Saturday night matchup with the Colts were high, as both teams faced a win-and-in scenario for the playoffs. The Texans’ first offensive play couldn’t have gone any better as Stroud found Collins for a 75-yard touchdown (the longest of Stroud’s career to that point) to put them up 7-3 in the first quarter.
Stroud led the offense on a drive in the fourth quarter, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Devin Singletary with 6:20 remaining, that would put them up for good.
Stroud finished with 264 yards and two touchdowns, and the Texans clinched the AFC South title the following day when the Tennessee Titans defeated the Jaguars.
Stroud finished the regular season with 4,108 passing yards, third most for a rookie behind Luck and Justin Herbert (4,336 in 2020).
Stroud and Ryans became the first rookie coach and quarterback duo to win a division crown since the merger.
The Texans’ season ended where it began — in Baltimore, where they lost 34-10 to the Ravens in the divisional round. Stroud closed the season with 198 consecutive passes without an interception, the second longest by a rookie behind Kyler Murray (211) and surpassing Stroud’s previous mark of 191, which ranks third among rookies.
In the wild-card 45-14 win against the Cleveland Browns, Stroud threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns, tying a playoff record for touchdowns by a rookie.
Stroud’s 157.2 passer rating is tied for the third highest in a playoff game.
Stroud became the first quarterback drafted in the top two of the draft since 1967 to win a playoff game in his rookie season.
Stroud became the youngest quarterback at 22 years, 102 days old to win a playoff game, passing Michael Vick (22 years, 192 days).
Stroud was named a Pro Bowl alternate after the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and Bills’ Josh Allen declined to attend, along with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — who’s playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
“You’re in this league, and everybody is looking for a quarterback,” Ryans said. “We know how important the position is and the resources that go into finding the right guy to lead. Over half the league has them, half don’t, so it’s a special position. It takes a special person to play that position, and we’re happy to have C.J. leading us.”