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C.J. Stroud deserves to be in the MVP conversation

Plus more winners and losers from Week 10.

NFL: Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach the back-end of the regular season it’s growing increasingly apparent that C.J. Stroud isn’t just the offensive rookie of the year, but putting a legitimate claim on the Most Valuable Player award.

Before you rush to the comments and call me an idiot, hear me out on why Stroud has been the MVP this season — then rush to the comments and call me an idiot.

Stroud had a real statement win on Sunday by beating the Bengals in a game where he out-played Joe Burrow en route to getting the Texans to 5-4 on the season, one game out of 1st in the competitive AFC South. If the playoffs started today Houston would be in, and that’s almost entirely because of Stroud, who has transformed one of the worst teams in the NFL into a legitimate threat in six months since being drafted.

We can make all sorts of semantic argument about what an MVP award should mean. Personally, I think that too often it simply equates winning with value, while failing to take into account the transformative effect a player has on a team. When it comes to the NFL the truth is that MVP is often synonymous with “best quarterback,” and in this rubric you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the league right now more deserving that C.J. Stroud.

Stroud’s projected stats by the end of the regular season easily clear the threshold for MVP worthiness, and compare extremely favorably to the last five recipients of the award.

NFL MVP Comparison, 2018-2023

2018 Patrick Mahomes 383 550 66 5,097 50 12 113.8
2019 Lamar Jackson 265 401 66.1 3,127 36 6 113.3
2020 Aaron Rodgers 372 526 70.7 4,299 48 5 121.5
2021 Aaron Rodgers 366 531 68.9 4,115 37 4 111.9
2022 Patrick Mahomes 435 648 67.1 5,250 41 12 105.2
2023 C.J. Stroud (projected) 370 601 61.6 4,960 28 4 101

While Stroud doesn’t clear the threshold in completion percentage, touchdowns, or passer rating — he easily crosses the bar in yards and TD/INT efficiency. The truth is that this has been a down year for top quarterbacks around the NFL, with Stroud’s projected numbers exceeding those of Mahomes, Josh Allen or Justin Herbert with relative ease. His biggest challenge to MVP at quarterback is Tua Tagovailoa, but if you ask anyone outside of Miami who has had the better season they’re going to pick Stroud.

That’s not to say Tua isn’t deserving, because in many ways he’s been the best quarterback in the league this year. However, it’s difficult to divorce his performance from being on a team with the best offensive coach in the NFL, having the best receiver in the league this season in Tyreek Hill, adding Jaylen Waddle to the mix — and capping that all off with the Dolphins’ run game.

Voters traditionally reward quarterbacks who do a lot with a little. That was the primary driving force behind Mahomes’ 2022 win when he lacked receivers, and Rodgers when he only had Davante Adams. Stroud has better-than-expected weapons in Tank Dell and Nico Collins, but almost nobody knew their names prior to this season — and especially when compared with Hill and Waddle.

The obvious rub here is that assuming stats hold Tagovailoa could win the MVP, while Stroud would be rewarded Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY), but I think there’s an extremely compelling case to be made for Stroud skipping that intermediary step and vaulting immediately into the conversation for the top award. If we look at a Texans’ roster that has been largely unchanged from 2022 to now we can clearly see how valuable Stroud has been at the position.

Davis Mills at best was a 3,000 yard passer with mediocre TD/INT numbers. The team was 3-13-1 as a result. With the same blocking, and the functional addition of one good receiver in Dell, Stroud has already eclipsed last year’s win total and is leading a team to a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s significant, and why I feel he deserves the top award.

The hilarious part of Stroud’s incredible season is how close this dream came to never being realized. There’s a lot of revisionist history happening with Nick Caserio and the Texans front office when it comes to Stroud, but the truth remains that this organization really wanted Bryce Young and were crestfallen that the Panthers traded up to take him. Stroud was very much a consolation prize, a desperation choice, a player they took because they needed a quarterback, not necessarily because they actually wanted C.J. Stroud — but it’s turned into one of the most fortunate draft decisions in recent history.

Houston doesn’t just have its franchise QB, or the best rookie of the year, but a legitimate top quarterback in the NFL.

Winner: Myles Garrett

It’s far past time we discussed the season Myles Garrett is having for the Browns. Lost in the Browns’ inconsistent offense and quarterbacking issues is recognizing a simple fact: Cleveland have a player turning in one of the most legendary defensive seasons we have ever seen.

Sunday was just another day at the office for Garrett who casually finished with 1.5 sacks. It brings his season total to 11.0, but more impressive than just getting to the quarterback is the level of disruption he’s able to bring to teams around the league.

Garrett’s projected stats for this season by its end almost defy belief: 20.2 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, and 12.8 stuffed runs. This is a defensive end who is thriving in every phase of the game and derailing offenses around the league.

If the Browns are able to make a run to the playoffs this season (and signs are pointing to that being the case) it will be because of the work Garrett is doing on defense.

Loser: The Chargers defense

This has to be one of the saddest developments of the 2023 season. Detroit has a very good offense, but the Chargers are allowing their entire season to go up in flames because they can’t do the bare minimum when it comes to stopping opposing teams.

On Sunday the Chargers allowed 533 total yards, 200 rushing yards, and couldn’t manage to capitalize on a four touchdown game from Justin Herbert. That should easily be enough for most teams to win, but Los Angeles keeps getting dominated.

The Chargers now have a defense languishing in the 20s. They can’t score enough to mitigate a unit that allows over 24 points-per-game, and everything is crumbling with the team at 4-5. This team should be a serious threat in the NFL, and they’re getting run over — again.

Winner: Joshua Dobbs

Nobody is having a better year than Joshua Dobbs. It’s not like he’s going to win any awards, but the deal at the trade deadline that sent him to Minnesota is going to set him up forever in the league.

I don’t know how long the Vikings can ride this wave, but it’s working for now. Dobbs played extremely well against the Saints, maximizing T.J. Hockenson’s role in the offense and playing efficient football. Dobbs can’t really stretch the field, but it doesn’t matter if this team keeps winning.

Loser: Atlanta Falcons

The good news: Running Bijan Robinson works! Who knew?!

The bad news: Literally everything else

Winner: Travis Kelce

The Chiefs are on a bye week, but Kelce won anyway.

Congrats, Travis.