INDIANAPOLIS – C.J. Stroud believes in C.J. Stroud. And he made that apparent from the moment he walked up to field questions from the media at the combine Friday morning.
The 21-year-old Ohio State quarterback has generated potential QB1 buzz as an accurate passer and 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist. He had arguably his best performance in his last college start against Georgia in last season's College Football Playoff semifinal, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 23-of-34 passing against a stingy Bulldogs' defense. He also extended plays with his legs, quelling speculation that he couldn't perform outside the pocket.
But Stroud would suggest you look beyond his highlights against Georgia. He'll tell you there's plenty more than that, and plenty more to come.
"Everybody kind of highlights that (Georgia) game, but for me, you can put on my film, I think I've been the best player in college football two years in a row," Stroud said. "And I think I've consistently done that, and I think, honestly, that I haven't even touched my potential yet. I think that I have a lot more to get better at.
"But I have a lot more to prove, not only to y'all but to myself. And that's something that I plan to do, because I honestly don't think that I've even got close to anything in college yet. So I'm excited to see what I'll do in the NFL."
Stroud is among the consensus top four quarterbacks in this year's draft class, along with Alabama's Bryce Young, Kentucky's Will Levis, and Florida's Anthony Richardson. He could be in play for any of the teams toward the top of the draft, and the Panthers may need to consider a trade-up scenario to land Stroud given their spot at No. 9 overall this year. That's something they said they were considering this week, even as they had a meeting with free agent Derek Carr. But their preference is clearly to draft one, and Stroud is part of the group they're considering.
In two seasons starting at Ohio State, Stroud passed for over 8,000 yards and 85 touchdowns against 12 interceptions with a 69.3 completion percentage. He applauded the program under head coach Ryan Day, calling Ohio State a "mini-NFL team" where he learned how to explain plays on whiteboards and become an on-field coach.
"One thing about me, I think I'm a ball-placement specialist," Stroud said. "I like to be very accurate, I don't want my receivers to have to do really anything to catch the ball. And I think I've shown that time and time (again) on film."
If any concerns remained about his ability as a runner, Stroud showed he could make things happen with his legs against Georgia. He rushed for 34 yards on 12 attempts, including a 27-yard scramble that helped set the Buckeyes up for a field goal that could've sealed a championship berth (their kicker missed a go-ahead 50-yard attempt with three seconds left).
He mentioned Michael Vick and Deshaun Watson as on-field influences and said he looked up to Joe Burrow as the kind of quarterback who's "not the fastest guy ever" but can extend plays on the run.
"I think I'm a playmaker; I think I'm very creative," Stroud said. "And I think I'm smart when it comes to protections and things like that, because I solve a lot of issues before they're even there. And that's something I pride myself on."
Stroud has interviewed with several NFL teams in Indianapolis (including the Panthers), and he confidently counted down the attributes he's pitched in those meetings this week.
He's assured of who he is. And at the same time, he knows there's room to grow.
"I want to show I'm a man of God and let that be known," Stroud said. "Secondly, I just want to show who I am. I want to be myself; I want to be unapologetically myself. No matter what room I step in, I want to let them know that I control the room and that I'm a leader. Third, I want to show them the IQ that I have about the game when they ask me questions about plays or different things like that.
"That I let them know that I am a student of the game and I'm willing to learn, and I know I have a lot to learn. I do come from an offense that is high-powered, and I did put a lot of points up, but I'm willing to go back to square one and learn it all over again just to be great (in) this league."
View photos of head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer from their press conferences and interviews with the media at the Combine on Wednesday.