Fantasy Football Rookie Report: C.J. Stroud's early success has him among all-timers

There has been reluctance in this weekly space to put C.J. Stroud’s rookie season into the realm of special rookie quarterback campaigns like those of Justin Herbert in 2020, Cam Newton in 2011 and Dan Marino’s 1983 debut.

After Stroud shredded the Buccaneers for 470 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner to Tank Dell with seconds remaining to clinch a 39-37 thriller, it may be time to consider the Texans rookie as worthy. Let’s look at how Stroud stacks up with the others through their first eight starts:

  • C.J. Stroud: 2,270 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, one interception, 78-1 rushing

  • Justin Herbert: 2,333 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, six interceptions, 176-3 rushing

  • Cam Newton: 2,393 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 317-7 rushing

  • Dan Marino: 1,775 passing yards, 16 touchdown, four interceptions, 41-2 rushing

Newton’s otherworldly rushing ability aside, Stroud’s numbers through the first games of his career stack up well with his spectacular predecessors. Add to it that he’s been working behind a makeshift offensive line that has seen him running around the backfield more than most would like — especially his coaching staff.

Back to fantasy, though. In a year with so many quarterback injuries, Stroud is very much in the discussion with other every-week starters, with one big caveat a few paragraphs down. At 19.7 fantasy points per game, Stroud is the QB5 right behind Herbert (20) and Patrick Mahomes (19.9), both of whom were taken much earlier in fantasy drafts.

His home-road splits are pretty telling, though it’s only four-game sample sizes each way. In going 3-1 at home, Stroud has thrown for 1,359 yards and has 11-1 TD-INT. In losing three of four on the road, the rookie has thrown for 911 yards and 3-0 TD-INT. All three of his 300-yard games have been at home, including his latest blowup.

Even in a week where Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Matthew Stafford and Patrick Mahomes are all on a bye, Stroud could be a shaky play in a road tilt in Cincinnati. The Bengals are a tough defensive team, allowing 252.1 passing yards per game. Josh Allen was right around that mark last week, with defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo making life difficult on many quarterbacks, young or not.

If you can afford to, I would recommend sitting Stroud this week, and then firing him up for a three-game stretch of home games against Arizona, Jacksonville and Denver. All three rank No. 25 or worse in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. I’m starting Stroud with confidence and leaving him in the lineup those weeks. This week against Cincinnati, however, it could be tough with Troy Hendrickson leading a defensive charge that, aside from Allen last week also limited Lamar Jackson to 237 yards in another Bengals home game.

Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

The rifle-armed rookie got the nod to start the rest of the season, and that makes him a streaming option immediately this week. After the way he hung tough against the Steelers' pass rush that pressured him 23 times, we know he’s got plenty of courage. That deep ball is also a thing of beauty, and remember who he’s facing this week.

The Bucs, fresh off the pasting delivered by Stroud, host Levis and the Titans next. Aside from last week’s huge game, Tampa Bay has also been lit up by Jared Goff (353 yards) and Josh Allen (324 yards) in the last four games. Levis is rostered in only 44% of Yahoo leagues, so for fantasy managers sitting Mahomes, Hurts or Tagovailoa this week, the rookie is a good option if available on waiver wire.

Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons

Since the headache game when he received just one carry, Robinson has 11 and 13 touches in the two games since. He even joined the rest of his Atlanta teammates in the Coping Corner, where Yahoo’s own Andy Behrens and Matt Harmon sit players in problematic situations so as not to have to talk about them again. Kidding aside, it was a three-week stretch against very good run defenses, so maybe a good elixir is an Arizona game in Week 10.

The Cardinals are 30th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, and recently allowed 105 rushing yards to Kenneth Walker and 158 more to Kyren Williams. Atlanta's bye is on the heels of that game, and the fantasy playoffs loom with good matchups against the Panthers and Colts before a championship-week date with the Bears’ improving run defense that’s limited Josh Jacobs, Austin Ekeler and Alvin Kamara to 35 yards or less each.

Tank Dell, Houston Texans

With his second 100-yard game, including the aforementioned game-winner, Dell got the attention of fantasy managers. His rostership rate jumped 19% to 67% on the season, so don’t count on seeing him in waiver wire features the rest of the season.

With 35 routes last week, Dell led Houston in that category. Interestingly, he was second with 16 routes run out of the slot. If he can get those layup receptions from Stroud, it’s going to boost Dell up so much more in the back half of the season. Facing the Titans twice, including a home date in Week 17, Dell could be a factor in fantasy lineups during the playoffs.

Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers

With two catches for 14 yards against the Jets, some fantasy managers may want to bypass Johnston and just think the rookie breakout is not going to happen. But it was the Jets in New York, which may as well be the Bermuda Triangle, swallowing up many wide receivers more accomplished than Johnston.

What has Daniel Popper of The Athletic enthused about the rookie’s prospects for an upsurge in production are some of the peripheral numbers. Against the Jets, Johnston ran 32 routes, the same number as Keenan Allen. He even ran eight routes out of the slot, which could mean some quick shots that use QJ’s tremendous run-after-the-catch abilities. It’s also the diminishing number of receivers employed by the Chargers, as Joshua Palmer joined Mike Williams on IR. The opportunity is there, and this week’s game against Detroit with a 48.5 total has the potential to be a carnival game. Fellow rookie Zay Flowers put up 75 receiving yards against the Lions two weeks ago.

With so many top receivers on byes this week, Johnston is very much an option to start in fantasy lineups.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks

The Ohio State product has settled in as the slot receiver for the Seahawks, last week running 19 of his 29 routes on the inside. JSN also has seen his yardage steadily climb to 210 in his four games after the bye: he had just 62 yards in the four games preceding.

With his routes and production increasing, up next is the dream matchup against the Commanders and their No. 30 defense against wide receivers. I made Geno Smith my Conviction Pick this week, and figure that JSN is going to get plenty of work in a good week to stream the rookie. And looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, matchups against the Eagles, Titans and Steelers could make him a must-start by then.

Demario Douglas, New England Patriots

As a public service, I do want to warn you that starting Patriots may cause headaches. The offense can be unwatchable at several points. But the rookie is producing of late. He has a team-high 20 targets in the last three games, turning that into 14 catches for 134 yards. He’s inherited the mantle of not scoring touchdowns from Jakobi Meyers — zero thus far — at least for the time being.

The matchup with the Colts’ defense that’s allowed 2,301 passing yards, placing them 27th in the league, is a good one. Rashid Shaheed zoomed past them for three receptions, 153 yards and a score two weeks ago. Douglas could have a great landing spot in this game in Germany.

Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers

With Travis Kelce on a bye and Dallas Goedert set to miss time with a forearm fracture, Musgrave may be a streaming option coming off leading the Packers with 51 receiving yards and a score last week. It won’t always be pretty, as that has been the story of late for the Jordan Love-led offense, though for the past three games, Musgrave is a close third in routes run among Green Bay pass catchers.

While the routes are there, this week’s opponent, the Steelers, is a tough one for the rookie. Pittsburgh is No. 4 against tight ends and the game is in Steeltown. Musgrave is available in 77% of Yahoo leagues, though any acquisition may be for matchups against the Chargers and Lions later on, both defenses giving up bigger games to the tight end position.

Coming off the bye

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions

What does he do for an encore after that scintillating 189 scrimmage yards and a score on Monday Night Football in Week 8? A date with the Chargers and their improving run defense is next — since Week 4, no ball carrier has more than 58 rushing yards against them. Also, if David Montgomery is active, the touch share needs to be closely watched. Both running backs will be startable in fantasy, but the touches might be an even split. Gibbs should get the bulk of the backfield receiving work, though.

Marvin Mims Jr., Denver Broncos

With just five targets in the last five games, is Mims even worth the roster spot? He’s been picked up in just 12% of Yahoo leagues, and that number does not figure to increase anytime soon. Unless Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton miss time, Mims is likely droppable.