Ranking the B1G's Top 25 NFL Draft prospects
Per the usual, the Big Ten is loaded with pro potential — and the 2023 NFL Draft should feature at least a few handfuls of players from within the conference.
Of course, Ohio State has several players who could be welcomed by the NFL next year — so there will be plenty of Buckeyes on this list. Other programs, such as Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State should also usher some notable players into the Sunday ranks at the conclusion of the 2022 season.
RELATED: SEC’s Top 25 NFL prospects
This list will feature the top 25 draft-eligible prospects (3 years removed from high school) from what could be, arguably, the strongest conference in college football this fall. There will be some obvious names included — the players everyone knows will be selected during the 2023 NFL Draft — but there will also be some under-the-radar prospects … you know, the guys who, with a healthy performance boost, could see their stock dramatically increase during the course of the fall.
Also, keep this in mind: Stats aren’t the end-all, be-all when it comes to projecting (so they won’t be emphasized too much). Oftentimes, other — more impactful — factors come into play, such as: size, versatility/athleticism, attitude/aptitude and team needs. With all of that information taken into account, this list is meant to highlight the best the Big Ten could have to offer come Draft Day.
25. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota – RB
He might not get as much attention as other running backs in the Big Ten, but the 5-10, 210-pound Gophers standout will definitely get some attention from NFL scouts. The Big Ten RB of the Year in 2020, Ibrahim holds the single-season rushing average record at Minnesota (153.7 in 2020) and would have gained more national attention had not an injury in last year’s opener sidelined him. The Gophers’ offense will go as Ibrahim goes this fall, so a big year could propel him up a few draft boards. With great cutting ability, endurance and game IQ, Ibrahim should find his way onto an NFL roster following this season.
24. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin – DT
A great interior lineman projection for the NFL, Benton comes in at 6-4, 317 pounds with a knack for getting at QBs. Benton is a certainly one of the more projectable players on this list, as most draft experts expect him to really blossom this season with the Badgers. When a guy is that big and quick, it’s hard to turn a blind eye.
23. Luke Haggard, Indiana – OT
The 6-7, 303-pound former JUCO star (Santa Rosa) is ranked as a top-10 draft eligible left tackle, per PFF — so that has to say something. Wingspan and athleticism also help, plus Haggard turned some heads last year by the way he handled Ohio State’s defense, never allowing a pressure on his quarterback. They may resemble trees, but guys like Haggard don’t grow on them; he’ll certainly draw consideration.
22. Dawand Jones, Ohio State – OT
Jones is 6-8 and somewhere in the neighborhood of 360 pounds. His size, alone, will get him drafted next year. He might not be too high on NFL Draft projection boards right now, but just wait … he’ll be a key piece on the offensive line for a team that will certainly compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, which in turn will draw looks from NFL teams.
21. Jayden Reed, Michigan State – WR
Half to the Spartans’ dynamic WR duo in 2021, Reed could easily play himself into early-round consideration with another strong season in East Lansing. Jalen Nailor, the other half of the duo, has drawn rave reviews as one of the top rookies throughout NFL minicamp (Minnesota Vikings), so the same could be forecast for Reed, who is also a great punt-return option. At 6-foot and 185 pounds, he’s not exactly prototypical in size, but he has spectacular ball skills and agility that will command attention from NFL scouts. He entered the 2022 draft but ended up returning for one final stint with the Spartans, so the NFL powers-that-be are already well aware of his potential.
20. Rakim Jarrett, Maryland – WR
The 6-foot, 190-pounder has been dubbed Maryland’s best WR since Steffon Diggs, who is now a household name in the NFL. Many doubted Diggs’ potential at the next level, but he has more than proven otherwise. Could Jarrett be cut from a similar cloth? Draft gurus are high on the Terps wideout. Here’s food for thought: Pro Football Focus has suggested that Jarrett could play himself into the first round.
19. Erick All, Michigan – TE
All could be among the first few tight ends selected during the 2023 draft. After a breakout 2021 campaign with the Wolverines, All has quickly transformed from what some viewed as a project to one of the nation’s best tight ends. Drops and inconsistencies in 2020 had some wondering about All, but he shed most — if not all — doubt during Michigan’s 11-2 run this past season.
18. Jacob Slade, Michigan State – DL
Per Pro Football Focus, Slade has been the Big Ten’s second-best pass rusher since 2019. In 2021, Slade had 40 QB pressures and ended the season with an 86.1 grade from PFF experts — the same experts who have tabbed Slade as the Big Ten’s top interior defensive lineman heading into this season.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.
17. Aidan O’Connell, Purdue – QB
Until this past season, he was very much an under-the-radar player. However, he proved throughout the season that he was much more than a decent college player; he proved that he could end up playing on Sundays. Per PFF, O’Connell led the Big Ten with 35 “big-time” throws in 2021 — whatever that means. The draft site didn’t specify, but let’s assume they were long throws that were critical to the outcome of the game. Jokes aside, O’Connell has developed into a smart QB who could make a quality living as a backup on Sundays.
16. RJ Moten, Michigan – S/DB
Moten is a strange specimen. He’s shown flashes of brilliance but also shown that he needs seasoning. Michigan has been somewhat of a DB factory in recent years, so it’s not out of line to include at least one draft-eligible Wolverines DB on this list. At 6-foot and 221 pounds, he’s built for the safety position and could find his way onto an NFL roster if he chooses to leave school after the season.
15. Nick Herbig, Wisconsin – LB
At 6-2 and 227 pounds, Herbig is a bit undersized to play linebacker in the NFL; however, he does possesses the size and ball-hawking ability to play safety in the league. Herbig might be a stretch for inclusion as a top prospect in the B1G — but the Badgers have routinely produced NFL-worthy talent during the past 20 years, so he might just end up surprising a few folks. Per PFF, he had a 91.4 pass-rushing grade in 2022. Scouts love metrics, and Herbig’s are projectable, so maybe he’s not such a stretch after all.
14. Durell Nchami, Maryland – DE/Edge
He’s been clocked with a 4.79-second 40-yard dash — which, for his size (6-4, 260), is respectable. Likely an outside linebacker at the next level, Nchami is viewed as a possible 5th-rounder by draft gurus and media experts.
13. Peter Skoronski, Northwestern – OT
According to Pro Football Focus, Skoronski is the No. 1-ranked OT of the 2023 draft class. Per NFLDraftBuzz, the 6-4, 315-pounder is No. 2 at the position. So basically, he’s pretty good.
Known for his pass-protection, Skoronski has grown into a superb run-blocker for the Wildcats and projects to be mid-first-rounder in 2023.
12. Jack Campbell, Iowa – LB
The Big Ten is tough, so anyone who lands among league leaders in tackles likely has the endurance to play with the pros on Sundays. In 2021, Campbell finished 2nd in the B1G with 143 tackles, the 5th-most of any Hawkeye (per his team bio). At 6-5 and roughly 250 pounds, he possesses great length that plays to his advantage.
Could he be molded into more of an edge player? Due to his build, and depending on the need of a team, that could be possible.
11. Olu Oluwatimi, Michigan – C
In 2021, Oluwatimi played for Virginia, where he gained national attention as one of the best run blockers in the nation, earning a 90.2 grade from PFF. This year, the transfer is projected to be an all-league standout for Michigan, which had the best OL in college football this past year. Any run-heavy team in the NFL would probably love to have a quick, strong, 6-3, 310-pounder in the middle of its front 5.
10. Sam LaPorta, Iowa – TE
Dallas Clark? George Kittle?
Will it next be Sam LaPorta?
Iowa can claim 2 of the top tight ends to recently play in the NFL, and LaPorta is supposedly on the same track. Even if he goes off course and only ends up on a remotely similar road, LaPorta should play his way into a solid NFL career. Per NFLDraftBuzz, the 6-4, 250-pounder is the No. 3-ranked TE draft prospect and the highest-ranked in the Big Ten.
9. John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota – C
Schmitz is 6-4 and 320 pounds, so the size can’t be denied. Also, he was the FBS’ third-highest graded OL in 2021, finishing with an overall mark of 88.5, per PFF. He’s started 3 years at Minnesota and enters his 5th year with the Gophers this fall. Saying that he’s “experienced” would be an understatement. One of the Big Ten’s best draft-eligible OLs, Schmitz could be a mid-to-late rounder in 2023.
8. Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland – WR
Per NFLDraftBuzz, the Big Ten has 4 of the top 10 draft-eligible receivers, with Demus being one of them. Projected as a second- or third-rounder, the Terps star had 28 catches for 507 yards this past season, averaging 18.1 yards per catch. Stats aren’t everything, but Demus’ line was pretty impressive and needed to be mentioned.
7. Joey Porter Jr., Penn State – CB
Dad was a menacing linebacker in the NFL, so Junior has the pro genetics already installed. Porter Jr., however, is a cornerback — built differently and also playing a different style than his pops. Porter is ranked among the top-10 CBs of the upcoming draft class and could, just maybe, be a first-round selection. If so, he’d be the first PSU CB in that club.
6. Parker Washington, Penn State – WR
At 5-10 and 207 pounds, Washington doesn’t appear to be a prototypical WR prospect. But don’t let that fool you. Washington will probably be the focal point of Penn State’s passing attack and should put up some big numbers this fall. NFLDrafBuzz tabs him as the No. 10-ranked WR prospect; the site has assigned high grades to Washington’s route running abilities, hands and other measurements related to performance.
Pro Football Focus also likes Washington, also ranking the Nittany Lions star among its top-10 draft-eligible receivers.
5. Zach Harrison, Ohio State – DE/Edge
Ohio State is an NFL factory, so yeah, here’s another Buckeyes star for your consideration.
The 6-6, 272-pounder isn’t a consensus top-10 Edge prospect … yet … but wait until the fall, because he’ll certainly serve as a high-octane contributor for Ohio State. He’s an incredible pass-rusher and has had 40-yard dashes clocked as fast as 4.41 seconds — which, for his size, is an incredibly impressive pace.
4. Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State – OT/OG
At 6-6 and 315 pounds, Johnson is a superb blocker and has the ideal size to play tackle in the NFL. However, depending on the trajectory of his career, he could end up as a guard at the next level. Either way, there will be NFL teams looking to pick up the Buckeyes’ starting right guard.
3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State – WR
Can you say “explosive playmaker”?
That’s what Smith-Njigba will be in the NFL. There is no doubting that he’ll be among the first WRs selected during the NFL youth spree. In 2021, he routinely outperformed even the best wideouts in the country, coming in with a PFF grade of 90.2 — the highest of any OSU WR since 2014.
At 6-0 and roughly 200 pounds, he’s not the fastest guy around, but he has great hands and knows how to run routes. NFLDraftBuzz has him as the No. 1-ranked WR prospect of the 2023 draft. There isn’t much debate surrounding Smith-Njigba, really. Had he been eligible in 2022, he may have been one of the top 3 WRs selected.
2. Ryan Hayes, Michigan – OT
Some draft gurus have projected Hayes as a potential top-10 pick. As the anchor of the country’s top offensive line in 2021, Hayes certainly deserves consideration when discussing the best potential pro picks in the Big Ten. At 6-7 and 305 pounds, he already has scouts salivating over his potential and will undoubtedly be one of the Wolverines’ most consistent stars this fall.
Believe it or not, some gurus and sites don’t have Hayes listed at all — and that was a shocker. Tackles are a sought-after commodity in the NFL, and if Hayes has the type of season most expect, he could easily be one of the first few selected.
1. CJ Stroud, Ohio State – QB
He’s already recognized as one of the top players in the nation, so it’s easy to project Stroud as the top-ranked NFL draft-eligible player in the Big Ten. Rocket arm, great instincts and athleticism — he is the total package and will definitely be among the Heisman finalists this fall barring some crazy turn of events. In 2021, he threw for nearly 4,500 yards and 44 TDs while completing roughly 72 percent of his attempts.
The 6-3, 215-pounder is among the highest-ranked QBs by PFF, coming in at No. 2 at the position and No. 3 overall. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com thinks Stroud could see immediate success comparable to that of Mac Jones, the former Alabama standout and current starter in New England.