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Draft Report Cards: Grading the fits of every Ohio State NFL draftee and UDFA signings so far

The 2023 NFL Draft is concluded and the Buckeyes have six players looking to make their new respective fanbases excited to have them.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State had six players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City, and have extended their lead in total first round draft picks. This year, Georgia and Alabama led the way in total draft picks, but the Buckeyes will have their fair share added to rosters via undrafted free agency.

The event started for the Buckeyes with C.J. Stroud going No. 2 overall to the Texans in the draft despite rumors about a poor performance on the S2 cognition test. He was quickly followed by Paris Johnson Jr., who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals after they traded down from their original pick and back up to pick No. 7. The last first round pick was Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who went to the Seattle Seahawks to join an already explosive offense.

For Ohio State and Cleveland Browns fans this was also a huge day, as the Browns picked Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler with their final two picks of the day. Jones had a slide, but the Browns need a tackle, and the Wypler addition bolsters a very thin interior front. Zach Harrison was the other Buckeye drafted, and he went in the third round to the Falcons who are in dire need of an all-around end.

Ohio State fans have another group of players to root for as they head to the league, and once again the Buckeyes will be looking to make an immediate impact on the franchises that took them. Looking at each fit, they might not all be perfect, but the newest Buckeyes in the NFL have their future homes.

Draft Picks

Ohio State only had one defensive player drafted this year once again following a disappointing draft last year as well that had one defender picked. The Buckeyes had their fifth consecutive center drafted, which shows the consistent development of the position. Ohio State also had their 10th straight year of five or more draft picks taken. The final notable stat from a position stand point is Ohio State just had their third consecutive quarterback drafted in the first round with their highest drafted quarterback in school history.

Ohio State is still in third in all-time draft picks, but chipped away again this year, getting them to 486 picks in total. The Buckeyes are still the best school at producing first round picks, being the first program to have 90 players taken in round one. With all the data out of the way, starting with Stroud, we will take a look at the fit of every player taken or signed. The way the fit will be graded is based on the current make-up of the roster, player fit in scheme, and the likelihood of the player succeeding in the situation.

C.J. Stroud (Houston Texans - Round 1, Pick 2)

There was a lot of noise surrounding Stroud and where he might end up, as mentioned there was a lot of noise about a cognition test. Despite all the nonsense, the Texans made the right choice in taking Stroud No. 2, which was made more emphatic by them trading up to the third pick to add Will Anderson Jr. as well. The Texans have Robert Woods, a veteran receiver, signed Laremy Tunsil to a long term deal to protect their future quarterback, and have a first year coach whose success will weigh greatly on how Stroud performs.

The reason this fit is exciting for Stroud is new Texans head coach Demeco Ryans hired his offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik from the Kyle Shanahan offensive coaching tree. This means that decision making, timing, and accuracy take precedent in the ideal quarterback to make the offense successful. Stroud fits into that offensive style perfectly given his natural feel working through progressions, and his athletic ability gives the offense some flexibility with the boot-actions that are a staple to this offensive system.

This fit would be an A if scheme was the only aspect of the grade, but they are thin at receiver and have a brand new coaching staff. At least Texans were smart enough to make a the right decision in the quarterback they wanted, and they deserve credit for showing how useless draft discourse in the weeks prior to the draft.

Fit Grade: B-

Paris Johnson Jr. (Arizona Cardinals - Round 1, No. 7)

Johnson Jr. ended up being the first tackle taken in the draft, which aligns with how even the earliest big boards were projecting last year. Around the NFL, many believe that the Arizona Cardinals have the worst roster in the NFL, which is saying a lot given the fact they have Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins. To begin bolstering their roster they traded down to gain more picks, and once they acquired the picks they moved back in front of the other teams that needed tackles.

In my eyes, the Cardinals need a lot, and as much as Paris Johnson Jr. is a pro-ready left tackle, he only has 13 starts at the position under his belt. Adding this to the fact this was seen as one of the “weaker” tackle classes in recent years this doesn’t guarantee success for Johnson Jr. He is getting drafted to team that needs a lot of help all over the place. He should slot in as the starting left tackle immediately and move D.J. Humphries – the 30th ranked offensive tackle according to PFF — over to the right side or left guard.

The fit here is that the Cardinals needed him badly, but I just don’t know how successful this pick will allow him to be.

Fit Grade: C+ (The Cardinals are bad)

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Seattle Seahawks - Round 1, No. 20)

This was my favorite pick of the first round. After the Seahawks made the most Pete Carroll of picks taking Devon Witherspoon with their first pick in the draft, they bolstered an already talented receiving corps with JSN. Smith-Njigba adds a dynamic slot weapon to pair with two different types of vertical threats in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

Additionally, Smith-Njigba fills a role that Lockett split time between, and a group of five receivers who underwhelmed at the end of the day. The Seahawks have explosiveness and Smith-Njigba will take this offense to another level with his versatility, separation, and after the catch ability. Geno Smith had been signed to a medium-term contract, and with three weapons now at his disposal can continue to solidify his place in Seattle.

There was not a better first round pick in the draft, and I guarantee that JSN will be successful in Seattle, including being in the rookie of the year conversation.

Fit Grade: A+

Zach Harrison (Atlanta Falcons - Round 3, No. 75)

The Atlanta Falcons hired defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen as their defensive coordinator when they transitioned to Arthur Smith as the head coach. Nielsen was a long tenured defensive line coach for multiple franchises, and one of the most significant players he coached was Cam Jordan with the Saints. The reason I brought up all-pro defensive linemen Cam Jordan is because he has a similar build and athletic skill set as Harrison.

Having a coach who can maximize a player who is a tweener between a bendy edge rusher and bulky athlete on the line is huge for Harrison reaching his potential. Being picked later also takes the pressure off him to be elite in any area at the start of his career. This will be the second year for Atlanta in Nielsen’s scheme, and Harrison will align in a strong side defensive end alignment he was comfortable with in college.

Fit Grade: B

Dawand Jones (Cleveland Browns - Round 4, No. 111)

On a value note, the Browns could not have gotten a better player in the fourth round of the NFL Draft than Dawand Jones. The Browns are set at tackle for the 2023 season with Jedrick Wills Jr. under contract until 2024 and Jack Conklin with one year left on his deal. There are no guarantees that any picks after the first round make the roster, so the character concerns do arise when a player has a more expendable contract.

Jones will need to show up and work hard to prove that he is the tackle of the future, and make it so the Browns don’t need to resign Conklin with a much more affordable option at tackle. He will likely train as a swing tackle due to the health issues Wills Jr. has had early on his career, but his future in the NFL is definitely on the right side.

Being a fringe first round pick and getting drafted in the fourth round is a humbling experience. Hopefully Jones is able to make the best out of this opportunity.

Fit Grade: B (Good developmental landing spot)

Luke Wypler (Cleveland Browns - Round 6, No. 190)

The last drafted player for the Buckeyes is Luke Wypler, who really has an opportunity to come in and compete for a starting job. They have veteran Ethan Pocic who was a solid player last season, and the starter entering last season Nick Harris is recovering from a serious leg injury.

Cleveland needs a center, and there is definitely not a truly solidified option at the position. There really is not a lot to say. It is unfortunate that Wypler fell to the sixth round, but he really couldn’t have landed on a roster that needs him more than the Browns. His leadership qualities are definitely in line with what is expected from an NFL center, and in his college career he ended up on the field a year early, excelling at the position. The Browns also have an awesome offensive line coach in Bob Wylie, who has developed some talented players.

Fit Grade: A

UDFA Signings

There are still a few Buckeyes who are not signed, but the few Buckeyes who many thought could potentially end up being drafted are off the board. Despite not being drafted, they will have opportunities to prove that they belong at the NFL level as undrafted free agents.

Tanner McAlister (Cleveland Browns)

McAlister is the first of two Ohio State safeties the Browns signed, and he will likely compete for snaps behind Greg Newsome II in the slot or at the free safety slot behind Juan Thornhill. The depth the Browns have at safety is not necessarily... good. There is ample opportunity for McAlister to show out as a special teamer and his experience in college playing five seasons under Jim Knowles gives him a versatile skill set.

There is not a natural position fit for him, which could lead to some challenges, but the Browns wouldn’t have signed him without a plan.

Fit Grade: C+

Ronnie Hickman (Cleveland Browns)

Where McAlister does not have a natural position fit, Ronnie Hickman does and could provide immediate depth for the Browns at strong safety. Hickman played in strong safety role under Kerry Coombs at Ohio State, and his time at adjuster prepared him well to play in the Browns two high shell defensive look. Grant Delpit – the current strong safety for the Browns – has significantly different skill set and by adding Hickman he can move to a more natural free safety position.

Like Wypler, the Browns need depth at the position Hickman excels at meaning he has a great chance of making the roster.

Fit Grade: B

Cam Brown (Los Angeles Chargers)

Brown goes to a pass defense that was one of the worst in the NFL, the Chargers did little to address that in the draft. They have Asante Samuel Jr. who had three interceptions in the first half against the Jaguars, but we saw the real Chargers secondary in the second half. Brown battled injuries his entire career at Ohio State, so if he keeps his health he can make some noise in the Chargers organization.

This grade is a pass/fail, and the Chargers pass because they need a corner, and Brown is a Buckeye.

Fit Grade: P

When we look back at these arbitrary grades a year from now, there might be dissenting opinions on how this turned out. The real story is these players all have an opportunity to live out their dreams. There is always conversation about fits and schemes players are drafted into, but Brian Hartline had a really solid take on the matter of draft fits.

There are 32 teams in the NFL and limited jobs available with a lot of people want them. When asked about Terry McLaurin going to the Washington Football Team, he said the team that drafted him deserved the success for being the team that believed in him enough to draft him. Each team that took an Ohio State Buckeye decided that by making the player they drafted’s dream come true, they believe that those same players will keep them employed for the long haul.

Regardless of feelings, all the grades on fit should be an A from that perspective, but we all know that is now how it works. Now that they’re drafted, it is time for them to prove themselves, and it doesn’t matter where they were drafted once the contract is signed. They all have to earn everything again from here on out, and even if we don’t support all those teams, we’ll be checking in on their stats on a weekly basis hoping to see them having success at the next level.