Bryce Young and CJ Stroud are the new Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields
It’s incredibly early to start talking about the 2022 season, the Heisman Trophy and the 2023 NFL Draft, but since the book is officially closed on 2021, the lookaheads to next season have begun.
A clear storyline has already developed: Bryce Young and CJ Stroud are the new Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. That means the 2022 season will be much more like the 2020 season rather than 2021, with 2 clear alpha QBs driving the conversation for a national title, Heisman Trophy and potential top pick in the NFL Draft.
Think about it. They’re both top recruits in the same class who grew up near each other in California and played against each other in basketball and football, just as Lawrence and Fields both hailed from Georgia. They both went on to play for 1 of the 3-4 programs with a legit chance to win it all every year. They are the overwhelming top 2 for the Heisman Trophy next year, just like Lawrence and Fields were (though neither wound up winning). And then they’ll likely be grouped together when discussing top picks in 2023.
Unlike Lawrence and Fields, though, they haven’t actually played against one another in college. They were both the backups in 2020 when Alabama beat Ohio State, and the Buckeyes fell short of the CFP this year. But from every other angle, they’re taking on the same narrative arc.
Young is Lawrence and Stroud is Fields in this scenario. Lawrence and Young were the No. 1 QBs in their classes, while Fields was No. 2 and Stroud was No. 3. Fields was always a little overshadowed by Lawrence, and Stroud is just a little overshadowed by Young, as well, considering the latter won the Heisman Trophy.
But just like Fields got the last laugh on Lawrence when Ohio State rolled Clemson in the CFP, I think Stroud will end his career with the leg up on Young. The basis for that prediction? How each played in their final game of the season.
For as great as Young is (and he really is great), Stroud looks to be better-positioned for success in 2022. Look at his supporting cast. He already has excellent chemistry with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, as he connected with him 15 times for 347 yards and 3 TDs in the bowl game. Smith-Njigba will enter 2022 as the No. 1 receiver in the country. And behind him, Stroud has 3 former top-100 recruits who are ready to step in and offset the loss of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Marvin Harrison Jr. caught 3 TDs in the Rose Bowl as well, while Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming were the No. 1 receivers in their respective classes. It would be somewhat of a surprise, and even a letdown, if Ohio State didn’t have the best offense in the country next season, or at least in the top 5.
Alabama, on the other hand, is on the other side of a historic run of wide receiver talent. With 4 first-rounders in the last 2 drafts and 2 more wideouts who will go in the first 2 rounds this year, it’s hard to fault the Tide. Alabama had 3 of the top 6 wideouts in the 2021 class, including 5-star Ja’Corey Brooks, but Young doesn’t have the same reps with those guys that Stroud has with Ohio State’s group. That’s what the offseason is for, yes, but Stroud will have a head start with his guys.
Young was throwing some dimes in the national championship game, but there were instances where his wideouts just didn’t give him any help. It’s tough when your top 2 wideouts go down with torn ACLs.
That was a ridiculously good throw by Bryce Young, who took a shot. Agiye Hall just dropped it. pic.twitter.com/6rwyutRhca
— Sam Cooper (@SamDCooper) January 11, 2022
With all that in mind, I’m betting against Young to win the Heisman, even though he is the current favorite at +200. At +400, Stroud seems like a better option. Since it’s a narrative award, Young will have to put up absurd numbers to have a shot. It’s why Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975 was the only guy to have won it in back-to-back years.
Frankly, both will have a tough time breaking some recent rends. There’s only one Heisman winner since 2007 who finished in the top 10 the previous year (Baker Mayfield) and only one Heisman winner since 2009 was top 2 in preseason odds (Marcus Mariota).
Alabama and Ohio State were in the top 3 of everyone’s too-early Top 25 pieces this week, and seem to have a good chance at meeting up in the CFP. That would be a fitting way for these guys to end their careers, since they are linked in the same way as Lawrence and Fields. For Ohio State’s sake, Stroud is hoping to follow the path of Fields and finish out on top.