After the 2022 season, Will Anderson and C.J. Stroud worked with Overtime SZN and its “Draft House” show. The production followed the duo and Bijan Robinson through the lead-up to the 2023 NFL Draft as they took their talents to the next level.
It turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
The Houston Texans took Stroud as the No. 2 overall pick, and traded up to No. 3 to select Anderson. Those moves paid off in a big way at Thursday night’s NFL Honors ceremony. Stroud won Offensive Rookie of the Year and Anderson brought home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, marking the second straight year a team had both winners.
To Anderson, it was quite the full-circle moment.
“It felt good, man. It was just a blessing,” Anderson told 5GOATs via Zoom from the Panini America VIP event in Las Vegas. “Like, I just got to give all glory to God, man. … And just to share that moment with my family, with the Texas organization, Coach DeMeco [Ryans]. And then also share that moment with C.J., it’s like a full 360. Draft day, he goes first, I go second. Here, he goes first, I go second. It’s just been a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
Stroud put together an incredible rookie season to lead the Texans to the playoffs, throwing for 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns over 15 games. His biggest performance came in November against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns. That day, he set the single-game passing record while leading Houston to a 39-36 victory.
To Anderson – who had 45 tackles and 7.0 sacks in 2023 – it was the culmination of a special year on and off the field for Stroud.
“It was very fun, man,” Anderson said of sharing the stage with Stroud. “C.J. deserved it. … The numbers he’s put up this year, the type of person he was – getting captain as a rookie, man – it’s just unbelievable. Like, those things aren’t easy to do. And he led his team, he won us a lot of ball games. He came in with a high standard for himself, he succeeded that.
“He came in with a high standard for this team. And he got that team to play to that high standard.”
Will Anderson: Having the locker room behind you is ‘a big help’
The 2023 season was an impressive bounce-back for the Texans. Following a 3-13-1 record under Lovie Smith, the franchise opted to hire Ryans from the San Francisco 49ers. It led to a 10-7 record and an AFC South title in his first season. Beyond Stroud and Anderson, other names such as Tank Dell and Derek Stingley Jr. emerged as key playmakers on both sides of the ball.
So while he and Stroud brought home the hardware, Anderson said it was a whole team effort as the young guys led the charge.
“When you have two guys that are very similar and come to work every day, captains as rookies, leading the team, changing the culture, going out there playing for one another, going out there trying to match our head coach’s intensity, get the team going, everything like that. And [to] have a locker room behind you, man, they’ve been such a big help to us,” Anderson said. “We say all the time, without them, we’re not here. So the guys in the locker room have been pushing us just as much as we’ve been pushing them.”
As he and Stroud prepare for their second seasons in the NFL, Anderson still thinks about growing the connection after college. It took some maneuvering to make it happen – the Texans traded two 2023 picks and two 2024 picks to acquire the No. 3 selection – but he’s grateful it worked out the way it did.
“It was so crazy that we both ended up in Houston,” Anderson said. “It’s just crazy how God works, bringing us together before we were really even together. It was great.”