The deadline date for declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone, and Ohio State was able to welcome back many players for the upcoming college football season, including projected starters Matthew Jones, Tommy Eichenberg, and Miyan Williams, among others.
For Ohio State to reclaim its perch atop The Big Ten and remain a contender for a spot in he College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes need to maintain a roster that ranks among the best across the country.
Ever since the NFL allowed underclassmen to declare early for the NFL Draft back in 1990, Ohio State has had more than its fair share of talent leave for perceived better opportunities at the professional level. Below are three players who declared for the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, and some thoughts on the impact it may have for the Buckeyes in 2023...
- WR - Jaxon Smith-Njigba
A classic case of, “what might have been,” Smith-Njigba suffered an injury in the 2022 season opener versus Notre Dame, and never was able to contribute in the manner or fashion envisioned for him by the coaching staff and fans. Smith-Njigba’s statistics for 2022 would result in five total receptions for 43 yards, and Ohio State was forced to move onto the other talented receivers on the roster to fill his role.
With the preparations for the 2023 NFL Draft in full swing, the whispers about Smith-Njigba have already begun circulating that he may not be worth a first round draft selection. It will be imperative for the talented wideout to compete at the upcoming NFL Draft Combine, as well as Ohio State’s Pro Day, with concerns that Smith-Njigba lacks the speed worthy of a high draft selection.
As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes demonstrated that they could adapt to Smith-Njigba’s absence. Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming all performed well during the 2022 season, and all three return in 2023.
2. QB - C.J. Stroud
Stroud waited until the last day to officially announce that he was declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft, prompting some fans to hold out hope that perhaps he was returning to Ohio State for another season. While I have no doubt that the coaching staff would have been thrilled if Stroud had returned, the reality is that the program had been in full anticipation of Stroud leaving for the NFL, and had begun making plans accordingly for the 2023 season without him.
Stroud should be among the very first players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, and it is not implausible that he could be the top selection overall.
For the first time since the 2018 season, there is a true battle for the starting quarterback position at Ohio State. Kyle McCord and Devin Brown will be given ample opportunities to win the job, and it is highly unlikely that Ryan Day and the coaching staff will announce a starter until August — probably a couple weeks prior to the season opener at Indiana.
If anything, the intrigue around the quarterback position will be the leading topic of discussion for the upcoming Ohio State Spring Game.
3. C - Luke Wypler
If Smith-Njigba and Stroud leaving for the 2023 NFL Draft were expected departures, it is possible that starting center Luke Wypler was not.
Wypler had started at center for the Buckeyes in both 2021 and 2022, and was expected to provide stability to a unit that was going to be without Dawand Jones at right tackle and Paris Johnson Jr. at left tackle. Johnson Jr. is another early NFL Draft entrant, but also graduated in December. Similar to Smith-Njigba and Stroud, Johnson was expected to leave for the NFL after the 2022 season.
Perhaps Luke Wypler liked the recent track record of his Ohio State predecessors at the center position, as Corey Linsley, Pat Elflein, Billy Price, and Josh Myers have all had or are putting together NFL careers, and Wypler wanted to join that esteemed list.
The departure of Wypler seems to have been handled by the coaching staff, well before spring football practices begin. The aforementioned Matthew Jones could be an option at center, but is likely to stay at his right guard position. Ohio State recently landed a transfer from Louisiana Monroe in Victor Cutler, and it seems likely that Cutler will be given an opportunity to win the center job.