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Big Ten players to watch for the 2023 NFL Draft

The Athletics' Dane Brugler released his pre-season top 50 players, which includes multiple Big Ten players.

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The college football season is here. Week 0 has come and gone, and while most of us are turning our attention to the 2022-23 season, draftniks are turning their attention to the 2023 NFL Draft.

Mock drafts and top 50 draft boards before the season starts are useless exercises, yet they do numbers for people like me — and anyone reading this article. We all like to look and see who from our team made the list. It’s hard to determine if we are looking for agreement or arguments more, but every list generates numbers as fans celebrate their players being on the list or get mad when they feel someone is snubbed.

Mock drafts and draft boards are an inexact science, and there is no way to be 100% accurate, but it is a great conversation starter and provides a list of payers for fans to pay attention to during the season. Recently The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who is one of the best in the industry, dropped his pre-season top 50 big board, and multiple Big Ten players made the list, including four in the top 20. There were also a few who were snubbed, so let’s get into it. Just remember if you disagree with the list, don’t blame the messenger!

Dane Brugler’s 2023 NFL Draft Top 50

No. 3 - C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (6-foot-3, 220 lbs.)

This is as easy as it gets. In most cases Stroud is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. His biggest competition is Alabama’s Will Anderson, who is rated No. 1 on this big board. The biggest surprise here may be Brugler’s ability to find two players he thinks are better than Stroud — the other being Georga’s Jalen Carter.

No. 16 - Peter Skoronski, G/T, Northwestern (6-foot-4, 310 lbs.)

A name you will know if you pay attention to offensive line play, Skoronski is fighting to be the top tackle in the draft. Some analysts view him as a guard in the NFL, but he should be drafted highly with another good season. Skoronski is one of the few bright spots on the Northwestern roster after stepping in for Rashawn Slater in 2020.

No. 17 - Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State (6-foot, 200 lbs.)

Smith-Njigba made a name for himself by arguably outplaying Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — the No. 10 and No. 11 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft — last season. Truthfully, I expected to see Smith-Njigba come in higher on this list, but there are concerns about his size and ability to sustain in the NFL.

No. 18 - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State (6-foot-6, 315 lbs.)

Johnson Jr., a former five-star and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2020 recruiting class, is looking to turn one season as Ohio State’s starting left tackle into a high draft pick. After spending 2021 as the starting right guard, Johnson is hoping that his experience as a guard translates to tackle. In a weak tackle class, a stellar year could shoot Johnson into the top 10 and a chance to be the first offensive tackle taken.

No. 32 - Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State (6-foot-2, 200 lbs.)

Porter Jr., son of NFL linebacker Joey Porter, is a future NFL corner based on size alone. At 6-foot-2, he will get a look at many teams. The NFL pedigree helps. He goes into the season as Penn State’s No. 1 corner. On the edge of the first round, Porter Jr. will need to improve to crack the first round, but don’t expect him to last far into the second round.

No. 40 - Zach Harrison, Edge, Ohio State (6-foot-6, 266 lbs.)

Harrison has not lived up to the pass-rushing hype placed on the former five-star and No. 12 player in the country in the 2019 recruiting class. Whatever he may lack in pass rush production — only 7.5 sacks in three seasons — he makes up for in his ability to stop the run. A strong 2022 campaign can vault Harrison into the first round, but if he doesn’t hear his name in the first 32 picks, expect a team to take a flier on him due to the fact he was built in a lab at 6-foot-6, 266 pounds with 4.5-speed.

No. 47 - Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland (6-foot-6, 288 lbs.)

Last but not least a slightly underrated player in the Big Ten, Maryland’s Jaelyn Duncan. Duncan is a major key to Maryland’s success and is tasked with protecting Taulia Tagovailoa. Duncan has guard-tackle flexibility in the NFL and should expect to see his draft profile rise in the coming months.

Biggest Snubs

Dane has seven Big Ten players in his top 50 and that seems low. In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Big Ten had 13 players drafted in the top 51 picks, and I would not be surprised to see double-digit players taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’s easy to criticize draft analysts for missing out on players, but we can’t match the hours of film and conversation that goes into their big board. Even still it wouldn’t be fun to accept their word for law, so here are some players I believe have a punchers chance at cracking Brugler’s final top 50 big board.

  • Keeanu Benton, DT, Wisconsin (6-foot-4, 315 lbs.)
  • Nick Herbig, OLB, Wisconsin (6-foot-2, 228 lbs.)
  • John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota (6-foot-4, 320 lbs.)
  • Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue (6-foot-3, 210 lbs.)
  • Olusegun Oluwatimi, C, Michigan (6-foot-3, 307 lbs.)

Other names to watch

Some of these players, based on the importance of their positions, have a better chance than others. The most likely risers belong to the positions of need: quarterback, wide receiver, and edge rusher. Positions like center, tight end, and safety aren’t usually the focus early in the draft. This list serves to recognize players who have a chance to improve their draft stock and crack the top 100 players drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft. I fully understand that not all these players will be drafted top 50 — or even top 100 — but I hope it serves as a primer for players to watch this upcoming season.

  • Ji’Ayir Brown, S, Penn State (5-foot-11, 208 lbs.)
  • Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa (6-foot-5, 246 lbs.)
  • Julian Fleming, WR, Ohio State (6-foot-2, 205 lbs.)
  • Ronnie Hickman, S, Ohio State (6-foot-1, 207 lbs.)
  • Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State (6-foot-8, 359 lbs.)
  • Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa (6-foot-4, 249 lbs.)
  • Riley Moss, DB, Iowa (6-foot-1, 193 lbs.)
  • Taron Vincent, DT, Ohio State (6-foot-2, 300 lbs.)

*Players listed alphabetically by last name