Mike Tomlin once told Chase Young that he hoped to never be bad enough to draft a player like him. Ohio State Buckeyes tend to have their names called more often than any other school on draft day. 141 players from Columbus have made it to the NFL via the draft since 2000, 31 of them in the first round. Only Alabama can brag about the same number of day-one players over that same time span. The 2023 NFL Draft is about to open and with it, the question isn’t if, but when, and how many Buckeyes (there are currently 13 on the big board) will get their name called. Here are the Buckeyes most likely to go in round one.
Hailing from Rancho Cucamonga High School, CJ Stroud came onto the scene in Columbus in 2020 and during his Redshirt Freshman season got to study behind current NFL starter, Justin Fields. Once he got his chance at one of the most coveted positions in college football, he truly began to shine. Stroud went on to lead the Buckeyes’ explosive offense over the past two seasons and dominated in nearly every way imaginable.
Stroud was nothing short of magic during the ‘21 and ‘22 seasons. 2021 saw the Buckeyes' offense lead the nation in almost every category. Sadly for the Buckeyes, the season was cut short and he didn’t get the chance to cap all the statistics off with a title. 2022 saw much of the same, including his second consecutive Heisman nomination.
Every piece of hardware won, and every rep has shown that CJ Stroud should be a lock in the NFL. He has the elite skill set to throw the ball to any spot on the field and watch it lead to success. He appears to some to be slightly undersized (scouts seem to be grasping at straws when compared to other elite players at the same position). During his Pro Day workouts, Stroud was able to demonstrate his mobility, a quality that he rarely needed to demonstrate on game day, but is clearly there. What impresses me the most about CJ is that intangible quality of leadership. Players want to not only play with him, but they want to do their best around him. There is no need to address test scores, as they appear to be false and inaccurate.
Most people have CJ Stroud as a top-five pick and second-best (depending on the day) quarterback behind Bryce Young. Carolina and Houston can’t go wrong at 1 and 2. The Colts would be lucky to see him drop to 4 and should pounce if available. Rumors continue to swirl of a possible slide, but Stroud fans have no reason to panic.
Ohio State is deep at receiver, there’s no doubt about this. So deep, that Smith-Njigba was out nearly the entire season with an injury, and they didn’t bat an eye. Brian Hartline and Zone 6 seem to have an endless supply of talent that finds its way to playing on Sundays. So, how can any team go wrong with JSN?
The only regret the Buckeye nation have is not getting to see Jaxon play a few more snaps in Columbus. Over two healthy seasons, Smith-Njigba proved that he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Buckeye receivers. 2021 saw him touting nearly 100 catches with just over 1600 yards in a receiving corps that also had Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Let that simmer for a second. That’s right, JSN was in the same receiver room with Olave and Wilson, two first-round picks in their own right, no wonder CJ Stroud looks like the best quarterback. On top of that, he helped lead the Buckeyes in a Rose Bowl that was a trap game by all accounts.
His measurables prove that he is as much of a deep threat with soft hands as a durable receiver slanting across the middle of the field. Agility and the ability to get open scream quarterback’s best friend and defensive back’s worst nightmare.
Most boards have Jaxon Smith-Njigba as the number one wide receiver, and in some rare cases only barely edged out by TCU’s Quentin Johnston, an edge that would surely be laid to rest had JSN actually seen the field this past season. Not many teams in the top ten need a wideout, and this should excite Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears. It appears that the Cardinals are in the market for a receiver, yet they have hired a defensive-minded coach, and the departure of JJ Watt screams Edge rusher to me. The Bengals have set a precedent of reuniting quarterbacks and receivers, and although the Bears need help on the offensive line, there’s something enticing about reuniting Jaxon and Justin.
Paris Johnson Jr.
Rodger Goodell can attest, no one gives better hugs than an offensive lineman, and Paris Johnson Jr. is the man for the job. A team will call his name in the first half of the first round and in that pick they will find an anchor and an ironman to protect their quarterback.
At one point in 2012, the Buckeyes' offensive line nicknamed themselves “slobs”. Johnson is a true throwback to the likes of Andrew Norwell and Pat Elflein with size, speed, and an angry motor. He was the leader of an offensive line that protected their quarterback like no other, ranking 6th in the nation in terms of tackles for loss coupled with only giving up seven sacks.
Clearly, Paris Johnson Jr. has a ton of upside. He has an uncanny, academic mind, able to decipher and understand defensive stunts while having the physical ability to dominate most defenders. He has a mean streak that carries his ability in the run game, and with some time can become an elite pass blocker at the next level. Still, some will say that he appears impatient when it comes to pass blocking, or that he’ll sacrifice his line of sight for an aggressive lunge.
The need for an offensive lineman is always there and most teams will value this position nearly as much as their quarterback. Most believe Johnson is ranked second for offensive linemen and a top-half pick. The only team in the top ten that have a strong need for an offensive tackle is the Bears and it may be possible for them to trade further back and still see him on the board just a bit later in the night. There’s also the possibility that a team will be wise enough to run up and grab Paris Johnson Jr. and solidify their line, protecting their quarterback for years to come.
There may only be three Buckeyes projected to be drafted in the first round, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of quality in those picks. 32 teams will get the chance to draft a Buckeye in Kansas City on April 27th, three will ultimately be happy and immediately improve their offense. There are ten other players from Columbus floating around on big boards and mock drafts, again, it’s never a question of if, but when the Scarlet and Gray make the jump to the next level.