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Five Ohio State and Big Ten predictions for the 2023 NFL Draft

The first round kicks off tonight from Kansas City, where there should be three Buckeyes taken early.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The 2023 NFL Draft kicks off tonight in Kansas City, with the first round taking place this evening, rounds two and three tomorrow, and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Over the next three days, numerous Buckeyes will find out where their NFL careers will begin. Heading into this year’s draft there are a number of juicy storylines involving former Ohio State players, which will help to shape how the first round and beyond will play out.

Since the landing spots for this year’s crop of former Buckeyes are all over the map, I figured it would be fun to try and predict how things will play out in the draft. With the introduction of sports gambling in Ohio, now there are some NFL Draft props, so maybe these predictions can even help you win a little coin.

Just as a warning, I have no inside information, these are just my predictions as someone that watches a lot of football.

C.J. Stroud will be the second quarterback taken in this year’s draft

It seems pretty obvious that Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is going to be taken with the first pick by the Carolina Panthers. For a while this offseason C.J. Stroud was the favorite to be the first quarterback taken, but lately there has been chatter that Will Levis would be the next quarterback taken after Young. Anthony Richardson is also in the mix to be taken in the top-10 in this year’s draft.

Stroud has been hurt lately by an alleged cognitive test score, as well as questions about his maturity. Even with everything recently, Stroud is still the best option after Young in this year’s draft, and honestly might even be a better option than the Alabama quarterback. Stroud is a better option than Levis or Richardson if NFL teams want to win sooner rather than later.

One perception that Stroud is fighting is Ohio State quarterbacks haven’t done anything in the NFL. While there is truth to that, Justin Fields played well last year on a bad Chicago Bears team. If Stroud is going to get dinged for playing quarterback at Ohio State, then teams should have some trepidation about drafted Levis after the failures of quarterbacks like Zach Wilson, Jake Locker, and a number of other similar sized quarterbacks that weren’t as talented but pumped up by the media.

In the end, I think Stroud ends up with the Indianapolis Colts. After Young is taken by the Panthers, Houston ends up taking either Will Anderson or Tyree Wilson, followed by Arizona taking whichever of those two defensive ends is still on the board. In the AFC South that has a lot of questions after the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts establish themselves as the clear second-best team in the division.

Paris Johnson Jr. won’t be taken with the third pick in the draft

Over the last couple days there has been a lot of smoke about Paris Johnson Jr.’s stock rising and the offensive tackle being taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the third pick in the draft. Even though Johnson will be a tremendous pick for an Arizona team that needs to find a way to protect Kyler Murray, who suffered a torn ACL last season, I think the Cardinals either take a defensive end or trade the pick.

There are two spots I think are more in play for Johnson early in the first round. Who I’d love to see pick Johnson is the Chicago Bears. Buckeye Nation would have a new favorite team if the Bears added Johnson to protect quarterback Justin Fields. If Chicago doesn’t pick Johnson, the Tennessee Titans should be interested in the Ohio State offensive tackle, especially after they parted ways with Taylor Lewan. I’m sure Mike Vrabel would love to add another Buckeye to the roster in Nashville.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba won’t be the first wide receiver taken

Just to be clear, I think Smith-Njigba is the best receiver in this year’s draft. Just because I think the Ohio State receiver is the top prospect at the position in this year’s draft, it doesn’t mean teams around the NFL think so. For some reason I keep thinking that a team is going to pull off a bit of a shocker and opt to pick Boston College receiver Zay Flowers over Smith-Njigba.

If a team picks Flowers ahead of Smith-Njigba, they’ll still be getting a very good wide receiver. In the long run, Smith-Njigba is likely going to have the better professional career, though. The Buckeye receiver was hurt because he was barely able to get on the field this year with injuries, which brought up questions about his toughness and desire to play the game. Ohio State fans know this is a bunch of bologna, but NFL teams could let this factor into their decision-making process if they are looking at picking a wide receiver.

Smith-Njigba is a favorite to go to the Packers with pick 13 in the first round. Even though Green Bay sounds interested in Smith-Njigba, we all have seen over the years how reluctant the Packers are to bring in skill position players in the draft. It would be ironic if as soon as Green Bay traded Aaron Rodgers then they start to bring in some skill position talent with their first round pick.

At least nine players from the Big Ten will be selected in the first round

It feels like almost a certainty that eight players from Big Ten schools will be selected in the first round of the draft. Stroud, Johnson, and Smith-Njigba should all be taken within the first 15 picks of the draft. Along with the trio of Buckeyes, Devon Witherspoon of Illinois, Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. will likely come off the board in or around the first half of the first round. Iowa defensive end Lukas Van Ness and cornerback Deonte Banks from Maryland look to be the other consensus first round picks this year.

So how does the Big Ten get past eight picks in the first round this year? I feel like a team could take Mazi Smith of Michigan even though the defensive end dealt with some legal trouble in Ann Arbor that Jim Harbaugh refused to do anything about. Another popular name at the end of the first round is Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore, who can play both defensive end and defensive tackle. While the SEC will be the conference with the most players selected in the first round, the Big Ten places a respectable second.

Michigan will have more players drafted than Ohio State

As much as it pains me to predict this, I think Michigan will have more players selected over this year’s seven round draft. Ohio State will dominate the first round of the draft with three players selected on Thursday, but it feels like the Wolverines are going to make up ground over the next two days of the draft. Along with the rivalry tightening back up on the field, so is the battle for draft bragging rights.

The race for the most picks in this year’s draft for the rivals is going to be close. When it is all said and done, I think Michigan has 7-8 players drafted, while Ohio State falls one or two players short of matching that total. At least when the careers of all the players between the two schools are drafted, the Buckeyes should have the highest career salary total, since they have three first round picks that could demand big money in the future.