Buckeye Brotherhood on Display As C.J. Stroud, Paris Johnson Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba Realize NFL Draft Dreams in Kansas City

By Dan Hope on April 28, 2023 at 9:20 am
Paris Johnson Jr. and C.J. Stroud

As C.J. Stroud walked into the room for his press conference at the 2023 NFL draft on Thursday night, he paused before making his way to the stage.

The New York Jets were about to make the No. 15 overall pick, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba was still waiting to be drafted. Even after a reporter in the room told Stroud that the Jets were about to draft Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV instead, Stroud wanted to see the pick for himself.

“C’mon Jax,” Stroud said before nodding in acknowledgment and proceeding to the stage after McDonald was announced as the selection.

Throughout the press conference, it was clear that Stroud’s former Ohio State teammate was still on his mind. He looked over at the television on the side of the room as each subsequent pick was about to be announced, hoping to see Smith-Njigba’s name flash across the screen. 

When Stroud was drafted by the Houston Texans with the No. 2 overall pick on Thursday night, the initial thought was that the Texans could use their other first-round pick – one they acquired when they traded Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns last year – to reunite Stroud and Smith-Njigba in Houston. It quickly became clear that the Texans had other plans when they traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 with the Arizona Cardinals to select Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson just one pick after Stroud, and Smith-Njigba would end up sliding to the No. 20 overall pick before going to the Seattle Seahawks.

Even with Anderson sitting next to him, Stroud had to admit that he was hoping for the opportunity to continue throwing passes to JSN.

“Man, I’m praying for it,” Stroud said when asked if the Texans should trade up again to draft Smith-Njigba. “I ain’t gonna lie, if they got Jaxon, man I would have been super happy. But I’m super happy for Will. If they can somehow finesse to get back into the first round, man, I'll give something. I’ll give my left leg up for that.”

Smith-Njigba was taken aback when he was informed of that comment during his own press conference later in the night.

“Oh my god. He said that? That’s love, man,” Smith-Njigba responded with a laugh.

That wasn’t the only display of love between Buckeye teammates in Kansas City on Thursday night. As Eleven Warriors conducted an interview with Stroud at the end of his media obligations Thursday night, Paris Johnson Jr. – who was selected just four picks after Stroud when the Cardinals traded back up to No. 6 to take the Ohio State offensive tackle – came in from behind and bear-hugged his former quarterback.

“That man right there,” Johnson said, “He’s my dog.”

Stroud immediately returned the love.

“Paris, man, he’s gonna go to Arizona to do great things,” Stroud said. “Lead that franchise to a lot of wins, protect Kyler and do great things, man. So I'm just, I'm really happy.”

Stroud, Johnson and Smith-Njigba all arrived at Ohio State in January 2020 as midyear enrollees, and as they celebrated their first-round selections together on Thursday night, Johnson and Stroud both reminisced on those early days at Ohio State and how they dreamed about the moment they would experience for real just over three years later.

“We came from really, I mean, the dorms (at Ohio State), man,” Stroud said. “I know you (referring to Johnson) were in Worthington, I was in Neil. So I used to walk over and hang out with him and just chill. So man, we came a long way.”

“Man, I mean, honestly, like, this is the stuff we used to talk about in the dorms,” Johnson added. “Like for me, when I first got in there, I didn't know the playbook yet. But I was in there chilling like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this and that at Ohio State. We’re gonna do this in the league.’ This is exactly what we talked about, and for us to come into the league at the highest point … it's not about just how you come in, it's about what you do as soon as you're in. So it’s even better to come in at the top.”

The three Buckeyes who became close friends while attending the 2020 All-American Bowl in San Antonio just before they enrolled at Ohio State all credited Ohio State with playing a key role in getting them to where they got Thursday night, when Stroud became Ohio State’s highest-drafted quarterback ever while Johnson was the draft’s top offensive tackle and Smith-Njigba was the first wide receiver taken.

“To be honest, at Ohio State, what kind of gravitated me towards them was that nothing was promised. Everything was got to be earned. So it was a thing that you had to earn to be a first-round draft pick, and when I work out in the weight room, that's what I look at,” Stroud said. “I look at first-round draft picks, I look at all the Heisman finalists, all these things I want to accomplish, and to be able to kind of accomplish a couple of things at Ohio State and now that I'm in the league now, I just want to do more. I know that it's just the beginning.”

Johnson said he chose to become a Buckeye because he believed it would make what they achieved Thursday night possible.

“That's huge. That's why you go to Ohio State to get developed by Ohio State,” Johnson said. “And to be able, I'm sitting in the section with C.J. while he gets his name picked, and when I looked up and I'm hugging everybody, Jaxon's right there and I know his name's probably getting called right now. That's just the type of team we have.”

Smith-Njigba, who joins Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf in what should be one of the NFL’s best wide receiver units in Seattle, feels prepared for what he’s walking into because of what he already was a part of at Ohio State for the past three years.

“I mean, I feel like we have like a pro receiver room already. Especially under Brian Hartline, Coach Hartline,” Smith-Njigba said. “Just gonna take everything that I learned and bring it to the next level. The development at Ohio State is second to none, so I appreciate my time there.”

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