14 NFL Draft Prospects from Ohio State, Several Current Buckeye Pass-Catchers to Put Their Skills on Display for Scouts at Wednesday’s Pro Day

By Dan Hope on March 21, 2023 at 5:49 pm
C.J. Stroud at Ohio State’s 2022 pro day
Joseph Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s 2023 pro day will offer no shortage of intriguing storylines.

For C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate their speed and athleticism while showing NFL scouts their elite ability to throw and catch the ball once again. For many of Ohio State’s other 2023 draft prospects who either didn’t work out at the NFL Scouting Combine or weren’t invited, it will be their one and only opportunity to go through a full on-field workout in front of representatives from nearly every NFL team.

A total of 14 NFL draft prospects from Ohio State’s 2022 football team will participate in Wednesday’s pro day: cornerback Cam Brown, defensive tackle Jerron Cage, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV, defensive end Zach Harrison, safety Ronnie Hickman, offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., offensive tackle Dawand Jones, safety Tanner McCalister, long snapper Bradley Robinson, fullback/tight end Mitch Rossi, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, quarterback C.J. Stroud, defensive tackle Taron Vincent and center Luke Wypler.

That list includes all of Ohio State’s players from last season who are pursuing NFL careers with the exception of kicker Noah Ruggles, who will not participate in Wednesday’s pro day even though he has said he plans to pursue an NFL career.

Two other NFL draft hopefuls who did not play for the Buckeyes will also participate in Ohio State’s pro day. Kellyn Gerenstein, who was the starting quarterback for Ohio State’s club football team for the past four years, will work out as a defensive back. Former Brown running back Allen Smith, a native of Westerville, Ohio, will also participate.

Several current Ohio State players will have the chance to participate in pro day as well. Ryan Day said Tuesday that wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson and Jayden Ballard and tight end Cade Stover will all serve as pass-catchers for Stroud during his throwing workout, just as Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams did for Justin Fields at Ohio State’s 2021 pro day.

A total of 118 representatives from 30 of the NFL’s 32 teams, including 11 general managers and eight head coaches, are expected to be at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for Wednesday’s pro day. Teams that will have both their head coach and general manager in attendance include the Carolina Panthers, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, as well as the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Las Vegas Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. The Buffalo Bills, Washington Commanders and Green Bay Packers will also have their general managers in the building.

Stroud, who had his own opportunity for a pro day test drive when he threw passes to Olave, Wilson and Demario McCall at last year’s pro day, will certainly be the headliner at Wednesday’s event considering his status as the draft’s potential No. 1 overall pick.

While Stroud already made a strong case for being the top passer in this year’s draft with his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine – and more importantly, his play over two years as Ohio State’s starting quarterback – Wednesday will be another opportunity for NFL scouts to evaluate Stroud up close and in person.

For Stroud, it will be his opportunity to make another impression on the decision-makers holding the cards at the top of the draft – one day before his top competitor to be the No. 1 pick, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, participates in his own pro day Thursday. Fourteen representatives from the Panthers, including owners David and Nicole Tepper, head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer, are expected to be in the building as they deliberate whether to draft Stroud with the top pick after acquiring it in a trade with the Bears.

While they’re in Columbus, they’ll surely spend time speaking with Ohio State coach Ryan Day – a former NFL quarterbacks coach himself – to learn more about Stroud and why they should consider drafting him as their new franchise quarterback. Although Stroud’s tape speaks for itself to highlight Stroud’s elite ability as a passer, Day believes the pro day will still be a valuable opportunity for NFL teams to get to know Stroud better.

“It's a piece of the puzzle,” Day said. “I think when you watch what he did this season, you watch the way he played in the Georgia game, you get a chance to see at the combine the way he throws the ball, I think most teams know what he can do. But it's another piece of the puzzle. And it's a great opportunity for teams to get out here and see him live and in color and see him throw it. I know as a quarterback guy, I always wanted to see what it looked like coming off the hand. And everybody got a chance to do that the combine, and then they’ll get a chance to do that on Wednesday.”

Aside from throwing the ball, Wednesday also presents an opportunity for Stroud to demonstrate his athleticism should he choose to run the 40-yard dash and participate in other athletic testing. He didn’t do any of those drills at the NFL Scouting Combine, but indicated during his press conference at the combine that he planned to run at pro day to show NFL scouts he is athletic despite not running much at Ohio State.

“There were times where I didn't run the ball where maybe I should have,” Stroud said in Indianapolis. “That's something that I plan to fix, and I'll show it at my pro day, I’ll show my athleticism, show my ability to escape pressure. I've done it before on film, but since people don't think I can do it, I'm going to do it again.”

Aside from Stroud, the other top storyline entering Wednesday’s pro day is Smith-Njigba and his speed. While JSN also excelled at the combine, where he didn’t drop a single pass in receiver drills and ran the fastest times among all combine participants in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, he did not run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, choosing to save that drill for pro day.

How fast Smith-Njigba runs the 40 on Wednesday could play a role in whether he ends up being the first wide receiver selected in this year’s draft. He’ll be motivated to prove to NFL scouts that they have no reason to question his speed.

“I think it's a little disrespectful,” Smith-Njigba said when asked at the combine about people doubting his speed. “But I'm ready to showcase that, definitely. Wish I could do it here and get it over with but you know, it's fine. We'll take more time and surprise a lot of people, I guess, at pro day.”

Jones and Wypler were the only Buckeyes who ran the 40 at the combine, so there will likely be no shortage of Buckeyes running on Wednesday. Johnson might not need to run the 40 to prove he is one of the most athletic offensive linemen in this year’s draft, but a good time could help his stock nonetheless. Harrison, Brown and Hickman sat out all on-field workouts at the combine, so scouts will be eager to see them go through athletic testing and position drills on Wednesday.

Among Buckeyes who were invited to the combine, Brown and Harrison may be the prospects with the most to gain on Wednesday. Brown boldly claimed that he wanted to run a 4.2-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but will now have just one opportunity to back up that claim after opting not to run in Indianapolis. Harrison, who was clocked running a 4.47-second 40 in high school, could certainly bolster his draft stock by running a time even close to that on Wednesday, especially considering his impressive measurables of 6’5 1/2” and 274 pounds with 36 1/4-inch arms at the combine.

A good pro day showing will certainly be important for Cage, Gaoteote, McCalister, Robinson, Rossi and Vincent after they weren’t invited to the combine. Wednesday presents a valuable opportunity for them – one that could be nearly as valuable as the combine considering how many NFL representatives will be in attendance – to show why they deserve a chance as either late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents.

“I know our pro day is going to be just as good as the combine, so I'm not really too worried about that,” McCalister told Eleven Warriors in January about not receiving a combine invite. “But yeah, just whatever opportunities I get, I'm looking forward to, with my training I'm doing now, looking forward to putting up some good numbers.”

Even though they aren’t prospects in this year’s draft, Harrison, Johnson, Ballard and Stover also have a chance to impress NFL scouts in what will effectively serve as a dress rehearsal for their own pro days in the future.

Harrison is already projected to be one of the top picks in the 2024 NFL draft, while Johnson and Stover are also likely to be pursuing NFL careers at this time next year, so scouts will surely take note of how they perform. Ballard, who still has three years of eligibility at Ohio State, could start to put himself on the radar for pro scouts after a quiet start to his Buckeye career.

“I think it just allows them the opportunity to get a feel for what that's like,” Day said. “Sometimes it can be kind of awkward just kind of being out there and running routes and catching, but just relaxing, getting a feel for it, so when they do it next year, it won't be the first time.”

Wednesday’s pro day is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. and continue until 3 p.m. Eleven Warriors will be in attendance for the entire pro day to provide live updates as the event unfolds and much more coverage including articles, videos and photos after the event concludes. The final hour of Ohio State’s pro day, including Stroud’s throwing session, will also be streamed live on NFL+, the NFL’s subscription video streaming service, beginning at 2 p.m.

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