The Ohio State Buckeyes routinely generate some of the largest NFL draft classes each passing April. Early on, the 2023 NFL Draft appears as if it’ll be more of the same on that front. Here’s a look at some of the top NFL draft prospects in line to carry the torch for the Buckeyes in 2023.
Ohio State prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are the obvious headliners for Ohio State in the 2023 NFL Draft. But there are several other underclassmen who could add increased depth to the team’s class if they end up declaring. The names to know are numerous, but the Buckeyes have a way of delivering on their promise.
C.J. Stroud, QB
Early on in the 2023 NFL Draft, C.J. Stroud is one of the favorites to be QB1. He’s already projected as an early first-round pick, and it’s easy to see why. Just last year, as a redshirt freshman, Stroud completed 317 of 441 passes for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Now draft-eligible, Stroud’s skill set takes center stage. He’s a good athlete with an excellent arm and consistent accuracy, and he has the poise, pocket discipline, and decision-making of an older quarterback. Ohio State’s offense is dangerous because of him.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR
Stroud is the engine that makes the Ohio State offense roll, but it helps to have an abundance of high-level talent in the receiving corps. Chief among the Buckeyes’ pass catchers is Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a junior poised to be one of the highest-rated receivers on the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6’0″, 198 pounds, Smith-Njigba isn’t a dominant physical specimen. But he wins with easy separation ability and elite instincts at the catch point. Another strong season could lock him into the first-round conversation.
Julian Fleming, WR
Like Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming is also a true junior — officially draft-eligible for the first time. But Smith-Njigba’s production has dwarfed Fleming’s to this point. Even so, it’s very possible that Fleming breaks out and erupts onto the 2023 NFL Draft stage, now that he won’t have Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave above him on the depth chart. Fleming has a larger frame, listed at 6’2″, 207 pounds, but he’s also visibly more explosive than most of his counterparts. After Jameson Williams’ emergence last season, everyone will be looking for the next breakout WR. Fleming is a definite candidate.
Paris Johnson, OT
After starting at right guard for the majority of the 2021 season, Paris Johnson will move to left tackle in 2022 to replace 2022 NFL Draft third-round pick Nicholas Petit-Frere. It’s not only possible but also expected that Johnson will become a better prospect. In fact, he’s an early favorite for the OT1 mantle in the 2023 NFL Draft. Even though he hasn’t played tackle in college yet, Johnson played the position in high school, and his traits translate well. He’s long, athletic, and powerful, with terse quickness off the snap. With a good year, he could be the next first-round offensive lineman from Ohio State.
Dawand Jones, OT
Dawand Jones returns to man the starting right tackle spot for the Buckeyes in 2022. Now a senior, the 6’8″, 360-pound behemoth should start to find his way into the 2023 NFL Draft pool. Jones is massive, and his size alone may help him field looks as a right tackle in the NFL. He’s strong and powerful but lacks flexibility and has room to improve his technique and hand usage. Jones needs another leap, but if he can make it happen, he can attract interest next April.
Matthew Jones, G
The medical retirement of Harry Miller left an opening on the Buckeyes’ offensive line, which veteran Matthew Jones is expected to fill. With Johnson moving to left tackle and true sophomore Donovan Jackson taking the left guard spot, Jones will slide in at right guard. He doesn’t have much starting experience, but now in his fifth year, Jones will get his shot to make an impact. At 6’4″, 310 pounds, he has decent size. But his experience should serve him well.
Luke Wypler, C
Luke Wypler may not declare for the 2023 NFL Draft as a redshirt sophomore. Even so, he could use the 2022 season to his advantage by playing well and building the hype around his name. Wypler started for the Buckeyes at center last season and played well. At 6’3″, 300 pounds, he’s not an overly imposing player. But much like former Buckeyes and current Green Bay Packers center Josh Myers, he’s steady and reliable. As long as he stays that way, he’ll have fans in NFL front offices.
Taron Vincent, DT
The Buckeyes have two ineligible defensive tackles who should command most of the starting reps in J.T. Tuimoloau and Tyleik Williams. But there are a few veterans in the rotation worth knowing. The first is Taron Vincent, who embarked on a career season with 3 1/2 tackles for loss in 2021. At 6’2″, 305 pounds, Vincent doesn’t have elite size, and his athleticism gets called into question on tape.
Jerron Cage, DT
Another veteran in the defensive tackle rotation who could field 2023 NFL Draft interest is Jerron Cage. In rotational action last year, Cage got on the board with a sack and four tackles for loss. Now, returning as a sixth-year player, he’ll look to maintain that impact in 2022. Cage doesn’t appear overly explosive on tape, but with his strong 6’2″, 310-pound frame, he can hold strong in run defense and pry open lanes.
Zach Harrison, EDGE
Zach Harrison was regularly included in first-round mocks early in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle. However, after an underwhelming junior campaign, Harrison chose to return to school. Now, he’ll aim to exceed his six tackles for loss and two sacks from last year. Harrison has incredible upside. He’s outrageously long at 6’6″, 272 pounds, but also has elite explosiveness off the snap. Yet, his lack of bend and flexibility got in his way quite a bit last season. He needs to work around that if he wants to take a step up.
Javontae Jean-Baptiste, EDGE
With Tyreke Smith departing for the NFL, Javontae Jean-Baptiste may be called upon to take on a larger role opposite Harrison. Already a senior, Jean-Baptiste has never been a full-time starter, but he’ll get his chance in 2022. The 6’5″, 255-pound edge rusher has the length and athleticism to be a standout player, and he’s flashed at times in previous seasons. Like Harrison, he doesn’t appear to be the most flexible player, but he does have some measured ankle flexion to use in conjunction with his length.
Steele Chambers, LB
Ohio State’s linebacker room was worn down for a bit after the departures of players like Pete Werner and Baron Browning. But the emergence of Steele Chambers down the stretch in 2022 helped soften the blow of those losses. Chambers transitioned from running back to linebacker and now comes into 2022 as the top LB on the Buckeyes’ roster.
With his 6’1″, 232-pound frame, he can hold up in contact situations, but he also shows enough range to make plays across the second level. He needs to keep honing his instincts, but his first year as a starter showed plenty of promise.
Chip Trayanum, LB
While Chambers is likely to keep one of the starting linebacker roles, it’s still up in the air as to who joins him. In that context, one of the more intriguing transfers this offseason is Deamonte “Chip” Trayanum, who played as a running back at Arizona State just last season. Trayanum was a standout at RB, but in his move to Ohio State, he’ll also be transitioning to linebacker. Listed at 5’11”, 227 pounds, he has the physicality and frame density to potentially be a tone-setter.
Teradja Mitchell, LB
The emergence of Chambers had an inverse effect on Teradja Mitchell, who lost reps after starting as a regular on the second level. Now, with Trayanum transferring in, it’s not a guarantee that Mitchell rebounds. But Mitchell, a veteran from the 2018 recruiting class, chose to stay at Ohio State rather than move elsewhere. He may not start, but with his 6’2″, 239-pound frame, Mitchell should get rotational opportunities. He’ll also assuredly have a chance to make an impact on special teams.
Cameron Brown, CB
Most already have Denzel Burke penciled in as a potential early-round prospect at cornerback in the 2024 NFL Draft. But in the meantime, Cameron Brown provides potential in the 2023 cycle. Brown stands at around 6’0″, 190 pounds, but with his long legs, he can cover large amounts of ground off the line and accelerate upfield quickly in press-bail. He also shows good play recognition and zone awareness and can make plays on the ball — as evidenced by his interception and seven deflections in 2021.
Ronnie Hickman, S
After a stellar season that saw him amass 99 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, and a forced fumble, Ronnie Hickman is back as a leader among Ohio State’s safety group. Hickman provides ample value as a safety who can come into the box, match tight ends and receivers off the line, and make tackles downhill in pursuit.
His 6’1″, 205-pound frame allows him to fulfill this role, but Hickman’s short-area mobility and physicality also stand out as important traits. He’s explosive when he keys in on plays, and another season could unearth even more potential.
Tanner McCalister, S
The Buckeyes have a logjam of talent at safety, but that didn’t stop them from seeking out Tanner McCalister in the transfer portal. McCalister was a standout on the Oklahoma State defense over the past two seasons. Through 2020 and 2021, he logged a combined 83 tackles, three tackles for loss, 11 pass deflections, and a pick. With his dual-sided playmaking ability and willingness to come downhill, McCalister could leverage a lone season at Ohio State into increased 2023 NFL Draft buzz.