The first month of every NFL season is an exercise in proving everyone wrong. Teams we expected to compete falter quickly, while plucky underdogs find themselves in the thick of the playoff race. Sometimes, it’s an infusion of youth that can propel a bottom-dweller to contention.
In Houston, the expectation was that first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans had plenty of work to do in turning around a franchise that had the second-worst point differential in the league. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, the number two overall pick, had plenty of promise, but few were predicting an immediate offensive explosion in his first season. After a disappointing 25-9 loss to open the season in Baltimore, the Texans have scored a combined 87 points over their last three games. That includes convincing wins over the Jaguars and Steelers, thanks in large part to their young gunslinger.
Stroud is currently fourth in the league in passing yards, having thrown for 1,212 on the year. Even more impressive is the rookie’s ball control; he’s one of just three quarterbacks with over 100 pass attempts that hasn’t thrown an interception. Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s scheme has allowed Stroud to find his playmakers quickly and accurately, to the tune of six touchdowns and a 63% completion percentage.
Stroud, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month in September, has already made history. The rookie has the second-most passing yards for any quarterback in league history over their first four career games, trailing only Cam Newton’s groundbreaking 2011 campaign. That Stroud is doing this with a banged-up offensive line further proves that the Ohio State product can thrive without an elite supporting cast around him.
Stroud’s success doesn’t mean that leaps taken by the rest of the offense should go unnoticed. Nico Collins, currently the seventh-ranked wide receiver in PPR, has emerged as a legitimate must-start at the position. Collins’ 428 receiving yards on the year are the fifth-most in the league, while his three touchdowns sit behind only Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill at the position. Tank Dell, a rookie receiver out of Houston, was lobbied for by Stroud during the draft, and the pair have undeniable chemistry, leading to a phenomenal 267-yard start for the third-round pick. Veterans like wide receiver Robert Woods and tight end Dalton Schultz have served as solid safety blankets for Stroud, although neither has much fantasy value.
Despite their fast start, there is room to grow for the Texans. Last season’s breakout, running back Dameon Pierce, hasn’t gotten into a groove yet, rushing for just 2.8 yards per carry this season. Last week’s game against the Steelers was Pierce’s best performance yet, as he rushed for 81 yards on 24 carries. While Devin Singletary has taken more snaps than fantasy managers would like, Houston’s offensive line should only get healthier as the season goes on. As defenses attempt to counter a suddenly potent passing attack, running lanes should open up for Pierce.
There will be some bumps in the road this season with a rookie head coach and quarterback; that’s the nature of the NFL. That doesn’t take away from the excitement Ryans and this offense have brought to a beleaguered franchise. With Stroud at the helm, there should be plenty of points scored this season in Houston.