Seahawks 2023 NFL Draft Preview: Going all in on CJ Stroud
The Peach Bowl performance
These few concerns for Stroud were put to the test against an all-time great Georgia Bulldogs team in New Year’s Eve’s Peach Bowl CFP semifinal. And boy, did Stroud deliver an epic performance, even in defeat.
Facing arguably the best defense in the country, full of future NFL stars, it was Stroud that stood out as the best player on the field. As a five-point underdog, Stroud carried his team, completing 23 of 34 passes for 348 yards and 4 touchdown passes. He was his dominant accurate self, throwing darts to his NFL-caliber receivers against an NFL-caliber secondary.
What was stunning and impressive was to see Stroud use his underrated mobility to extend plays or get big chunks on the ground. He ran more often in the Peach Bowl than any other time in his career and broke more tackles on the ground against an elite Georgia defense than the rest of his 27 career games combined. With career runs of 48 yards and a 34-yard scamper against the Bulldogs, there’s a level of mobility and explosiveness that will be explored in the NFL.
What was most impressive about Stroud was his ability to create big plays off-script. Ryan Day’s offense is truly a work of art, and rarely puts the QB in difficult decisions, but that was not the case in the Peach Bowl. Georgia’s overwhelming talent in the trenches forced Stroud to make 7-8 plays while running for his life. Three of his four touchdowns, with two going for 31 and 37 yards, were made on the run and with a Georgia defender closing in on a sack. These scores were the type of plays you’d see on a Mahomes highlight reel, showing the wow factor that Stroud displayed in the biggest game of his life.
As the game wore on, Stroud began to lose his biggest weapons to injury. Already down potential first-round wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Stroud lost his reliable tight end Cade Stover and his all-world wideout Marvin Harrison, Jr. during the game. If those guys didn’t miss big chunks of the game, Ohio State is probably playing the national title on Monday.
Nevertheless, Stroud found himself down 1 point with 54 seconds left and two timeouts at the 25-yard line. Stroud looked comfortable, completing an across-the-field 15-yard strike for a first down, before his 34-yard scamper that put the Buckeyes at the Georgia 30-yard line with 28 seconds left and both timeouts. The Buckeyes should have kept being aggressive, but they instead appeared content to settle for a long field goal, which we now know was not meant to be.
I put more praise on Stroud for that drive than blame for how it flamed out. Even in defeat, it was a special night for CJ and one that should have a multitude of NFL franchises reconsidering his draft position.