Expert Analysis


6 min read

C.J. Stroud, DeMeco Ryans Ruining Expectations for Rookie QBs, Coaches

Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, left, and quarterback C.J. Stroud
Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans laughs with quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) before the game against the New Orleans Saints at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans are ruining things for the rest of the NFL.

That was one of my initial reactions watching rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and the young Texans led by first-year coach DeMeco Ryans carve up what had been the best defense in the league, the Cleveland Browns', to the tune of a 45-14 victory in the wild-card round. The Texans now have the Baltimore Ravens on deck in the divisional round on Saturday.

>> WATCH: Texans-Ravens Preview

How exactly are the Texans “ruining” things, you might ask?

Not only are they setting the expectations ridiculously high for new head coaches and first-year signal callers, but they are also a tangible example to NFL owners of how quickly an organization can turn things around if it can pair the right coach with the right quarterback.

Every number surrounding Houston's season is more ridiculous than the next. This is a franchise that won 11 games total during the past three seasons. Yet Stroud and Ryans have already matched that number with a chance at a 12th win against Lamar Jackson and company.

The problem, at least for all the teams other than Houston, is that the Texans are making things look a heck of a lot easier than they are. While fans can now point to Houston as the prototype for what their team should do, the reality is that the lightning in a bottle the Texans have captured this season is much harder than observers realize. 

Other Factors to Account For

The Texans are only the third team to win a playoff game with a first-year head coach and rookie quarterback, following in the footsteps of the Mark Sanchez–Rex Ryan New York Jets (2009) and the Joe Flacco–John Harbaugh Ravens (2008).

Plus, those teams were both led by elite defenses that carried their young quarterback — similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers during Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie campaign in 2004. While the Texans have a solid defense, the team is more about Stroud, which means offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik deserves tons of credit.

Anecdotally, about 50 percent of new head coaches work out to the point where they either get a second contract or have some measure of success or improvement with the squad they took over. The number for first-round quarterbacks is probably even less than that, but for easy math, let’s assume that about half of them also work out. That means your odds of hitting on both spots, arguably the two most important in an entire NFL franchise, in one shot are probably about 25 percent at best.

For every Trevor Lawrence, there’s a Zach Wilson. For every Joe Burrow, there’s a Trey Lance. And those are just the quarterbacks taken at the very top of the draft in years where it is thought to be a great draft for the position. There are also years such as 2022 when only one quarterback — Kenny Pickett — is selected within the first 73 picks, and unfortunately for the Steelers, it’s not looking good for him to be the long-term answer in Pittsburgh.

The same, of course, goes for the coaches, as well. For every Mike McDaniel, there’s an Urban Meyer. For every Zac Taylor, there’s a Nathaniel Hackett.

How Do You Find Great Candidates?

The real issue is that it seems like there’s still not a great process for evaluating candidates for either role.  The Buffalo Bills got superstar quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh pick in 2018 after the Browns and Jets selected Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, respectively. It seems laughable now that those organizations could take those quarterbacks over a guy Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called “John Elway on steroids,” but those teams chose the prospects who were more developed and advanced over the raw Allen, and it cost them.

Doug Pederson was considered the least impressive hire in the 2016 coaching cycle behind guys such as Adam Gase, Ben McAdoo, Hue Jackson, Dirk Koetter, etc., and yet he led the Philadelphia Eagles to their only Lombardi Trophy just a year later.

Just ask Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper how hard getting things right are. He thought he got the right coach last year in Frank Reich and traded a ton of draft capital, as well as star wide receiver DJ Moore, to get the No. 1 pick so he could draft Bryce Young to be his franchise quarterback. Reich got fired before the season even ended, and the early returns are not promising on Young. Tepper might have been zero for two.

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud, left, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) and Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) after the game at Bank of America Stadium. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Most reports indicate the Texans would’ve taken Young if they had the No. 1 pick, so even they weren’t able to identify the traits that made Stroud the superior prospect. Think about that: Even the team that drafted him and is benefitting greatly from his success probably would’ve gotten it wrong if it had had the choice.

That doesn’t mean teams won’t keep trying to find what the Texans have.

On the contrary, they will look at what Houston has done and believe “that could be us” — despite evidence suggesting it isn’t very common. The New England Patriots have a new coach in Jerod Mayo and seem likely to draft a quarterback with the third-overall pick. The Washington Commanders fired Ron Rivera and will almost certainly select a rookie quarterback with the second pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, as well.

The organizations will try to lower the expectations in both cities knowing how hard it is to hit on both and put it all together, especially from Day 1, but it won’t matter.

After all, if the Texans can do it, why can’t they?