AFC South Reporter
Texans rookie C.J. Stroud has been so good, so early, so consistently that he’s quickly becoming a Tier 1 quarterback — in the same breath as Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow — if he isn’t one already.
But should Stroud be a legitimate MVP candidate this season?
That notion has picked up steam in the wake of his performance Sunday, when he threw for more than 350 yards and registered a game-winning drive for the second straight week to outduel Burrow in his house. Some national pundits even believe the No. 2 overall pick is the MVP frontrunner through 10 weeks.
The first and only time a rookie has won the award was in 1957, pre-merger, when Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown accomplished the feat for the Browns. Brown led the league in rushing yards (942), rushing touchdowns (9) and rushing yards per game (78.5).
What is Stroud’s argument for MVP to this point?
Stroud, who turned 22 last month, leads the league in passing yards per game (291.8), touchdown-interception ratio (15-2) and completions of 20-plus yards (43) for a Texans team that has shattered preseason expectations, currently holding an AFC playoff spot. He is the first rookie since the 1970 merger to be leading the league in yards per game through Week 10.
What has arguably been most impressive about the former Ohio State star is how good he has been in pressure-filled moments. When trailing, Stroud has a 65.6% completion rate, a 10-0 touchdown-interception ratio and a 109.9 passer rating, which ranks second among qualified quarterbacks (minimum 20 pass attempts) to the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, according to Sportsradar. Stroud has a league-leading 127.1 passer rating when trailing with two minutes left in the game.
He also ranks top 10 in a slew of quarterback categories: interception rate (first), passing yards (second), yards per attempt (third), passer rating (sixth), EPA per dropback (seventh), passing touchdowns (tied for ninth) and quarterback rating (10th).
Since 1970, through a rookie’s first nine games, Stroud ranks third in passing yards (only Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert have more) and first in touchdown-interception ratio, per Sportsradar.
Brown is the only rookie to have won MVP, but there are several rookies over the years who have received a vote for the award. Among them:
- Bears RB Gale Sayers — Tied for fourth place in 1965
- 49ers RB Ken Willard — Tied for fourth in 1965
- Cowboys RB Calvin Hill — Fourth in 1969
- Packers K Chester Marcol — Tied for sixth in 1972
- Steelers RB Franco Harris — Tied for eighth in 1972
- Oilers RB Earl Campbell — Second in 1978
- 49ers S Ronnie Lott — Tied for sixth in 1981
- Raiders RB Marcus Allen — Third in 1982
- Rams RB Eric Dickerson — Second in 1983
- Dolphins QB Dan Marino — Third in 1983
- Vikings WR Randy Moss — Tied for third in 1998
- Colts RB Edgerrin James — Fourth in 1999
- Titans RB Chris Johnson — Tied for seventh in 2008
What’s working against Stroud for MVP?
The main issues are the Texans’ current record (5-4) and standing in the AFC playoff picture (holding the No. 7 seed, the last wild-card spot).
Houston might be poised for a late-season run — it trails Jacksonville by just a game for the top spot in the AFC South and has all five of its wins in the past seven games, including two straight — but the Texans are currently pacing for under 10 wins.
A quarterback has won NFL MVP 10 straight years. Each one of them led teams that won at least 11 games and secured a top-two playoff seed in their respective conference. In eight of the past 10 seasons, the MVP quarterbacked a team that earned the No. 1 overall seed:
- 2022 → Patrick Mahomes: Chiefs won 14 games, AFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2021 → Aaron Rodgers: Packers won 13 games, NFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2020 → Aaron Rodgers: Packers won 13 games, NFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2019 → Lamar Jackson: Ravens won 14 games, AFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2018 → Patrick Mahomes: Chiefs won 12 games, AFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2017 → Tom Brady: Patriots won 13 games, AFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2016 → Matt Ryan: Falcons won 11 games, NFC’s No. 2 seed
- 2015 → Cam Newton: Panthers won 15 games, NFC’s No. 1 seed
- 2014 → Aaron Rodgers: Packers won 12 games, NFC’s No. 2 seed
- 2013 → Peyton Manning: Broncos won 13 games, AFC’s No. 1 seed
The last MVP to be on a team that won fewer than 10 games was in 1997, when Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders — a running back — accomplished the feat for the Lions. Detroit won nine games that year, finishing third in the NFC Central and falling in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The last MVP quarterback to be on a team that won fewer than 10 games? Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts in 1959, when teams played only 12 games.
Craig Carton and Greg Jennings weigh in: Is C.J. Stroud an elite QB?
Stroud, despite his youth and inexperience, has played at the level of an MVP-caliber quarterback to start his NFL career. But the Texans must continue their hot streak down the stretch for him to meet the standard of winning that’s typically associated with MVPs. On top of Stroud maintaining his stellar pace, history suggests that the No. 2 pick needs a division title and more to be in final contention for the award.
Working in the Texans’ favor is that their final eight opponents, including the Titans twice, have an average win percentage of .448. Houston sits just one game behind Jacksonville for the AFC South lead ahead of their Week 12 matchup. And when the teams first met in Week 3 in Jacksonville, the Texans blew out their division rival 37-17 behind a 280-yard, two-touchdown performance from Stroud, who was without four starting offensive linemen that day.
Only time will tell where Stroud stands in the MVP race by the end of the regular season, but the fact that this is a discussion point in mid-November speaks to his upside as a franchise quarterback.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more