NFL Shows Its Interest in C.J. Stroud, Ohio State’s Other Top Draft Prospects at Pro Day

By Dan Hope on March 22, 2023 at 7:15 pm
Frank Reich and C.J. Stroud

The Carolina Panthers made no effort to hide their interest in C.J. Stroud at Ohio State’s pro day on Wednesday.

After trading up to acquire the No. 1 overall pick from the Chicago Bears earlier this month, the Panthers sent a whopping 14 representatives to Columbus to see Stroud throw the ball at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday. Panthers coach Frank Reich had multiple one-on-one conversations with Stroud, including one immediately after his throwing workout concluded, while team owner David Tepper and general manager Scott Fitterer were among those who stood directly behind Stroud to watch him up close as he threw.

The Panthers also had a two-and-a-half hour dinner with Stroud on Tuesday night, giving them an opportunity to get to know Ohio State’s quarterback better as they consider whether to draft Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Florida’s Anthony Richardson or Kentucky’s Will Levis as their new franchise quarterback.

“I appreciate them coming out, man, it means a lot,” Stroud said after Wednesday’s pro day when asked about the Panthers. “Everything went really well, so I appreciate them talking to me and taking the time … It means a lot. I definitely think that shows how much, not only that they’re interested in me, but I'm interested in them. Just to meet them, know them as people and get to know them better and better as a person. So I think that's really big.”

Carolina was far from the only team that made the trip to Columbus to watch Stroud and Ohio State’s other draft prospects on Wednesday. 118 total NFL representatives were credentialed by Ohio State, and an Ohio State spokesperson said Thursday that representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance after originally saying that only 30 teams would be represented.

Other head coaches in attendance included Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, New Orleans Saints coach Dennis Allen, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus and New York Giants coach Brian Daboll. Eleven different NFL teams sent at least five representatives to Columbus to watch the Buckeyes’ draft prospects work out.

Carroll and Vrabel – whose teams could also potentially draft quarterbacks, though they’re less likely to have a chance to draft Stroud unless they move up from their current picks (the Seahawks are set to pick fifth and the Titans are set to pick 11th) – stood on either side of Ryan Day to get an up-close view of Stroud’s workout.

Allen and Tomlin both appeared to pay particular attention to the defensive back workouts, which featured potential late-round draft picks Cam Brown and Tanner McCalister as well as former Buckeye linebacker Palaie Gaotoete and club football team quarterback Kellyn Gerenstein. Carroll, Tomlin and Allen were all seen keeping a close eye on defensive line workouts, which featured Zach Harrison, Jerron Cage, Taron Vincent and Gaoteote.

Eberflus was among the coaches who kept a close eye on Paris Johnson Jr. – one of the top candidates to be selected by the Bears with the No. 9 overall pick after they acquired that pick in their trade down with the Panthers – as he went through offensive line drills along with Luke Wypler.

Johnson said he had conversations with both Eberflus and offensive line coach Chris Morgan on Wednesday and that he would love to play for the Bears, where he’d be reunited with Justin Fields.

“I talked with Justin about four days ago,” Johnson said Wednesday. “He’s like a big bro to me … being able to play with him again and be able to protect him, I think that'd be cool.”

Johnson also said he spoke Wednesday with Vrabel, whose Titans have been widely projected as a potential landing spot for the Ohio State offensive tackle. All three of Ohio State’s offensive line prospects – Johnson, Dawand Jones and Wypler – had dinner with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday night.

Another top prospect from Ohio State drawing interest from the Bears after their trade down with the Panthers is Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who said after Wednesday’s pro day that he is scheduled to make pre-draft visits with both the Bears and Panthers as well as the Saints. Smith-Njigba also had dinner with Daboll and New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen on Tuesday night before the pro day.

Among other prospects who Eleven Warriors spoke with after the pro day, Ohio State cornerback Cam Brown said he had dinner with the Saints on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit the Cincinnati Bengals in April while safety Tanner McCalister said he is scheduled to visit the Dallas Cowboys next week.

While those visits offer potential hints at which teams might be interested in each of those Buckeyes, every player who participated in Wednesday’s pro day had the opportunity to impress representatives from just about every single NFL team in the process, making it possible that any of the Buckeyes could have moved up any team’s draft board with their performance at pro day – the last time they’ll work out for NFL scouts before this year’s NFL draft, which will be held from April 27-29.

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