A way-too-early look at B1G's top 10 2023 NFL Draft prospects
It’s far too early to be thinking about the 2023 NFL Draft.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
If you’re a fan of the Texans or Jaguars, chances are you’ll need to keep it on your radar. Per usual. Same goes if you’re a Seahawks fan, because odds are Russell Wilson’s replacement will arrive a year from now. And apparently it will be the same timeline for the Bears to actually give Justin Fields some help.
But outside of those exceptions, it’s a bit premature to look ahead.
We’re doing it anyway. The college football-to-NFL industrial complex demands it. So here it is — a list of 10 top Big Ten candidates for the 2023 NFL Draft.
That language is intentional, by the way. I won’t call this a definitive top 10 list, because so much is liable to change in the next 365 days. A year ago, few would have had Aidan Hutchinson as the top Big Ten player on the board.
What I do know is there have been exactly 7 Big Ten first-round picks in 3 of the past 4 drafts. And if another 7 go in next year’s first round, the majority are likely to come from this list.
1. CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
The only question is whether Stroud will be the first B1G player off the board or the first player off the board, period.
My guess, especially based on how this year’s draft played out, is that Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. will be the favorite to earn that distinction. Bama teammate Bryce Young will also be in that mix.
But after the shallowest quarterback class in decades, Stroud and Young figure to be among several coveted players at the position next year.
2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Ohio State wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave went 10th and 11th in the 2021 Draft. Former Buckeyes receiver Jameson Williams, who transferred to Alabama so he could actually start, went 12th.
Smith-Njigba has the highest ceiling of them all. He led the Buckeyes with 95 catches for 1,606 yards as a sophomore, and his 123.5 yards per game were 2nd nationally.
3. Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State
An added benefit of being teammates with Stroud and Smith-Njigba? Scouts from every NFL team will also be able to keep close tabs on Johnson next season.
Johnson’s versatility will be a big sell. He is moving to right tackle in 2022 after starting at right guard last season. We’ll learn a lot about which position he’s better suited to play professionally in the coming year.
4. Peter Skoronski, LT, Northwestern
Northwestern was the only Big Ten program without a single player selected in the 2022 Draft. There’s a strong likelihood the Wildcats will be the first B1G team to have a player drafted after Ohio State in 2023.
Pro Football Focus named Skoronski the top returning offensive tackle in all of college football for 2022. If that becomes a consensus opinion, he’ll have a shot at becoming Northwestern’s first top-5 pick since Chris Hinton in 1983.
5. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
The Nittany Lions led all Big Ten programs with 8 players drafted in 2022. Receiver Jahan Dotson was the first Penn State player off the board at 16th overall, and Porter could find himself in similar territory a year from now.
That would be unusual for a Penn State corner — Linebacker U has never produced a cornerback picked in the first 2 rounds. But Porter Jr.’s physicality and talent are no surprise to anyone who watched his dad play. It will be fun to see how much his game blossoms next season.
6. PJ Mustipher, DT, Penn State
Mustipher’s season-ending knee injury at Iowa feels like the precise moment Penn State’s season went sideways.
The Nittany Lions were 5-0 and No. 4 in the country heading into that game. Mustipher was a big reason — he had 7 tackles against Wisconsin and 6 against Indiana. After his injury, Penn State limped to a 2-6 finish.
He’ll need to come back healthy, and interior linemen can be difficult to project. But Mustipher is too much of an impact player to be left off this list.
7. Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
The 6-8 Jones was a dominant run-blocker last season, but at times he could get exposed in the passing game. And given how much Ohio State throws the ball, that’s an issue.
But with a new offensive line coach (Justin Frye) in Columbus, Jones may get the help he needs to grow as a pass blocker this season. If it happens, he could leap up the board.
8. John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota
Schmitz was 2nd team All-Big Ten this year between Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum and Nebraska’s Cam Jurgens. Linderbaum was drafted 25th and Jurgens 51st this year, so Schmitz figures to be a very attractive prospect.
9. Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State
Reed isn’t the biggest target — realistically he’s 5-11 and 185 pounds — but he’s a dangerous target. He had 59 receptions for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns, as well as 2 punt return touchdowns.
Reed has a chance to become the focal point of Michigan State’s offense with Kenneth Walker III and Jalen Nailor both in the NFL, though we’ll see if it’s enough for him to work his way into the 1st Round.
10. Ochaun Mathis, DE, Nebraska
Mathis has yet to play a down in the Big Ten. He just announced his transfer from TCU to Nebraska over the weekend. But like Walker at Michigan State last season, he’s got an opportunity to make a big impact in his lone season with the Huskers.
Mathis was a monster in 2020, finishing with 9 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in a COVID-shortened 10-game season.