After its 2022 crash and burn, time for this organization to reset under center with youth rather than continuing to play musical chairs with fading veterans. New HC Shane Steichen has been coordinating offenses since 2019 and been quite successful with a range of quarterbacks including Philip Rivers, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Of that group, Stroud (6-3, 215 pounds) most closely resembles Herbert as he's accurate (69.3% completion rate in college), productive (85 TD passes, 12 INTs, 182.4 passer rating over last two seasons) and athletic — but, like Herbert, more inclined to extend plays to throw rather than break the pocket. Stroud was on the losing end of both his starts against Michigan and in a 2023 College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia — but he was spectacular in that final game, passing for 348 yards and four TDs against an awesome Bulldogs defense.
Since Andrew Luck's retirement, the Colts have had little success turning to QBs nearing the end of their careers, and it's safe to assume that owner Jim Irsay will be looking for the team's next face of the franchise. CJ Stroud has flown under the national-media radar all season but some NFL teams will tell you he'll be in the running for QB1, and his performance in the semifinal game vs. Georgia showed that he can beat you with his arm and his legs.
The Colts made a move to hire Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. Steichen was a part of the development of Jalen Hurts, which saw him go from second-round pick to one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. With that being the case, I think Steichen is fully comfortable with drafting a quarterback with physical tools that appears to be elite and that quarterback is Will Levis. Levis is a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, something that's all too familiar for Shane Steichen.
Among the teams in play for the top pick, the Colts may be the favorite to trade up. Whether they stay put or move up, it's likely that this pick will be a quarterback. Since Andrew Luck's retirement, the Colts have entered each of the past four seasons with a different starter, and three different quarterbacks made multiple starts in 2022.
When given time, Stroud throws with touch and outstanding accuracy to all three levels. Although he can be deadly from the pocket, there weren't many examples of Stroud displaying his playmaking ability out of structure before his final game against Georgia. The athleticism and off-script improvisational skills he showcased in the Georgia game provide a promising glimpse of what he can do when plays break down.
Indianapolis is taking a quarterback — that much seems set in stone. And if the Colts don't trade up to get Bryce Young, it means they are likely deciding between Levis and C.J. Stroud. A case can be made for either, but based on his NFL measurables and his style of play, Levis seems to fit that Manning/Luck mold the Colts have favored in the past.
New Colts coach Shane Steichen got Justin Herbert up to speed when he was the Chargers' offensive coordinator during Herbert's rookie season, and then helped turn Jalen Hurts into one of the league's top quarterbacks over his two years with the Eagles. Indianapolis has plenty of playmakers already on the roster, but Steichen now needs a signal-caller to build around.
Young's combine measurements will be important, considering his slender frame (listed at 194 pounds), but he's my top prospect right now thanks to elite poise in the pocket, good mobility and great field vision. Nothing seems to rattle him, and he can hit all of the NFL-level throws. The Colts must clean up the offensive line to protect him, but Young has a very high ceiling and could help turn the organization around quickly.
GM Chris Ballard has tried to address the quarterback position through the trade market. There will be some options in free agency, but he'll likely have to draft one regardless, and I wouldn't be surprised if he made the Bears a "Godfather" offer for the first overall pick. Despite dealing with several injuries at wide receiver, Stroud didn't miss a beat this season — he was second in touchdown passes (41) and QBR (88.9) in 2022 — and nearly beat the defending national champions with 348 yards and four TDs, while showcasing his scrambling ability (he's a traditional pocket passer).
In this scenario, Colts owner Jim Irsay and GM Chris Ballard say enough with bringing in veterans as short-term solutions. Like the Texans, they want their favorite bright young star at the position, so Chicago gets first- and second-round picks this year, as well as second- and third-round picks in 2024. Stroud stands tall in the pocket, throwing darts but also displaying nice touch when needed. He showed in the College Football Playoff that he can make defenses pay for playing man coverage by running for big gains.