While a lot could change between now and next April, Ohio State should be well-represented at the 2023 NFL Draft.
After all, the Buckeyes return a Heisman Trophy finalist in redshirt sophomore quarterback C.J. Stroud and a plethora of offensive weapons, including junior wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who is coming off a record-setting performance in the Rose Bowl.
If that duo performs as expected, the Buckeyes should find themselves in the hunt for a Big Ten and national championship. It would also cement their status as top-five picks, as ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller projected in his latest mock draft.
Miller believes the New York Jets will finish with the worst record in the NFL this season, which will allow them to pick Alabama junior linebacker Will Anderson Jr. with the No. 1 overall pick.
Seeing as they selected former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, they would likely pass on Stroud. The same goes for the Chicago Bears, who drafted former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11 overall last year, which is why Miller expects them to pick Smith-Njigba.
“The Bears have not surrounded Fields with much in terms of a supporting cast, but that will change via free agency and the draft following the 2022 season, once they have more cap space,” Miller said. “The electric Smith-Njigba left us with a statement game in the Rose Bowl when he caught 15 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns as the entire Utah defense failed to stop him. This would be the highest a wide receiver has been drafted since Calvin Johnson in 2007, but Smith-Njigba is the type of talent Fields needs.
“Could the Bears go quarterback here? Again, it's unlikely they would give up so soon, especially when Fields has so little around him this season. Chicago's new regime has time to build this team, and it's doubtful general manager Ryan Poles would have taken the job if he didn't believe in Fields as a franchise quarterback.”
Stroud, meanwhile, is a trendy pick to the Houston Texans, who own the No. 3 overall pick in Miller’s mock draft and have a need at quarterback. He expects them to draft Georgia junior defensive tackle Jalen Carter, however.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, on the other hand, are set under center after drafting former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first-overall pick in 2021. That would allow them to select Alabama junior cornerback Eli Ricks at No. 4 overall.
While Miller believes the Texans will skip over Stroud after drafting second-year pro Davis Mills in the third round in 2021, he believes the Atlanta Falcons would jump at the chance to select him with the No. 5 overall pick despite signing veteran Marcus Mariota in free agency and drafting former Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round in April.
“The first quarterback comes off the board later than expected based on the draft order here, and remember that I'm not projecting trades in this mock draft,” Miller said. “Make no mistake, though: Stroud is worthy of the No. 1 pick. The second-year starter battled through early adversity last season before finishing with a dominant win over Utah in the Rose Bowl; he had 573 passing yards and six touchdowns.
“Stroud has ideal size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and a huge arm that opens up defenses. NFL scouts want to see him use his legs more, but Stroud's trajectory points to him being an early pick.”
If Miller’s prediction comes to fruition, it would be the fourth time at least two former Buckeyes have been selected among the top-five picks.
It happened in 1997 with offensive tackle Orlando Pace (No. 1, St. Louis Rams) and cornerback Shawn Springs (No. 3, Seattle Seahawks); 2016 with defensive end Joey Bosa (No. 3, San Diego Chargers) and running back Ezekiel Elliott (No. 4, Dallas Cowboys); and 2020 with defensive end Chase Young (No. 2, Washington Redskins) and cornerback Jeff Okudah (No. 3, Detroit Lions).
It’s worth noting the 2020 NFL Draft also saw former quarterback Joe Burrow, who transferred to LSU after his redshirt sophomore season, go No. 1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals.
That said, Miller also has one additional Ohio State player being selected in the first round in junior offensive tackle Paris Johnson, who he has at No. 22 overall to the Arizona Cardinals.
“We're still waiting for the Cardinals to build an offensive line that can keep Kyler Murray upright. This would be a step in the right direction,” Miller said. “Johnson is a former top high school recruit who spent last season at guard. He'll kick out to tackle in 2022, and scouts believe he has the potential to develop into a starting NFL left tackle.”
The 2023 NFL Draft will be held at Union Station in Kansas City on April 27-29.
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