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Which former Buckeye(s) could be a steal in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft?

C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Paris Johnson Jr. are all expected to go in the first round, with Dawand Jones potentially joining them. But which Day 2 or Day 3 picks could provide tremendous value relative to their draft position?

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If you’ve happened to stumble across 7 Cent Drafts, you know that yours truly has been on a real value kick lately — especially as it pertains to the NFL Draft. Which player provided the highest return on investment: The first-rounder who played eight seasons, appeared in two career playoff games, and made three Pro Bowls? Or the sixth-rounder who made one (Pro Bowl) but provided exemplary leadership and did the dirty work for three Super Bowl champions?

These types of questions keep me up at night, especially a few weeks out from the draft. So I wanted to take a look at former Buckeyes in this 2023 class, but not for comparison purposes. I have no idea how valuable C.J. Stroud or Luke Wypler is going to be, and frankly I don’t (currently) care. I hope all these guys get drafted into great situations and enjoy long, prosperous NFL careers.

But I do want to look at “steal” potential. Which projected mid to late-rounder has the potential to make their organization look like Mensa International for landing such a productive talent so late in the draft?

Projected first-rounders were nixed, because how am I supposed to sell you on Stroud being a steal at No. 1 overall? Do I think he’ll be awesome? Abso-freaking-lutely. But he sure as hell isn’t going to sneak up on anybody. He will enter the NFL with sky-high expectations, and if he meets them, then congrats, he did what he was supposed to do. A bit of a burden if you ask me, but I believe Stroud will rise to the occasion.

But that would not make him a steal. That would make him a very good quarterback who is owed $200 million in his second contract. Doesn’t sound very cheap (or free), does it?

A steal is a player who far exceeds expectations for their draft slot. Think Kurt Coleman (7th round) or Nate Ebner (6th round). Few expected those guys to have much of an impact at the next level, if any. But they worked their tails off, cost their organization(s) no money early on, and helped their respective teams win a bunch of games. So who are those former Buckeyes in this 2023 draft class? Let’s take a look at a few of the candidates.

Zach Harrison — Defensive line

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Harrison is a Columbus (OH) native who stayed home to don scarlet and gray in The Shoe and will now be playing his home games outside the city for the first time in many years. A consensus five-star recruit, Harrison never really achieved stardom for Ohio State, but he did play his best ball as a senior. He displayed versatility throughout his four seasons as a Buckeye and profiles as a potential multi-position defender at the next level. However, there are some who see Harrison as having a low ceiling, which could ultimately push him down to the middle rounds of the draft.

I am bullish on Harrison’s NFL potential, so I absolutely view him as a potential steal in this draft. While he was a bit of an underachiever in college, he was at least consistent. And flashed brilliance in short, sporadic bursts. He has NFL strength, tremendous size, and performs well against both the run and pass. The latter is what gives me great optimism RE: Harrison’s future. He is not a one-trick pony, so there exists a world in which he is a three-down lineman.

Most projections have Harrison going somewhere in the second or third round, while a few have him falling to Day 3. Now tipping the scales at 270+, I believe he can play inside or out, which should make him an attractive option for each and every team. With that sort of versatility, I expect Harrison to be drafted in Round 3 at the latest and become an early contributor. If he does so and is available to his team on all three downs, then I think he will be viewed as a steal.

Ronnie Hickman — Safety

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Hickman is a solid all-around safety whose performance fell off in 2022. Whether that dip was due to changes in the OSU defense or a “last day of school” mentality, we may never know. I tend to believe the former, because he was used as a bit of a chess piece and not asked to play around the line of scrimmage nearly as much. Others around Hickman (namely Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers) also improved their play drastically, all but eliminating the need for Hickman to act as Mr. Cleanup.

Brian Dawkins or Sean Taylor he is not, but Hickman will run downhill and lay the boom on opposing ball carriers. He has no fear when playing near the LOS or blitzing, which is actually something I wish he could have done more of for the Buckeyes. He can cover a ton of ground and is a sure tackler when playing under control. One area where Hickman needs to improve is pass coverage, but I think NFL teams will study and know his limitations there.

Hickman will not be an ideal fit for every team, but in my opinion, he plays like a less-disciplined version of another former Buckeye safety: Vonn Bell. And the latter has enjoyed quite an NFL career. Hickman is commonly projected as a Day 3 pick, which sounds about right to me. I do not see a huge role in Year 1... However, if he is given ample opportunity to learn and develop in one system – with a defined role – then I think he can develop into a Vonn Bell-type. And that would be great value for a fourth, fifth, or sixth-round pick.

Luke Wypler — Center

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Putting Wypler behind the others in terms of steal potential because I think NFL teams just really like him. And I have seen him mocked as high as pick No. 65, which is a big investment to make in a center. But while Ohio State has gained notoriety for being DB U in the past or WR U in the present, they have also churned out a bunch of solid centers. So if Wypler follows in the footsteps of a Nick Mangold or Corey Linsley, then said investment becomes a pretty safe one.

I am far from an expert on the center position, so I will just say that Wypler was a heck of a leader for the Buckeyes, anchored offensive lines which underwent significant change(s), and for what it’s worth, was an all-state tackle in high school. To me, that means he has sort of been there, done that in terms of offensive line play and experience.

Unless Wypler becomes Mangold or Jason Kelce, I am going to have trouble ever referring to him as a steal if selected in the first 75 or so picks. But if he becomes a late 3rd/early 4th guy, then I do believe he has steal potential. Think Linsley, who was taken in the fifth round and has since been named to two All-Pro teams.