Ryan Day has seen a pro day workout or two over the years.
Between his previous stops in college football, his time spent as an NFL quarterbacks coach and even during his tenure at Ohio State, Day’s witnessed elite passers put their talents on display in such a setting on countless occasions.
But the Buckeye head coach would put C.J. Stroud’s Wednesday workout up against any of them.
“It's as good of a workout as I've seen, whether I was coaching in the NFL or now in last couple years here at Ohio State. It even goes back to when I was at Boston College, we had Matt Ryan and he had a great workout,” Day said. “But this is as good as I've seen. I just thought the ball came out with pace, he wasn't uptight, he was loose, he was letting it rip. And the ball came out down the field really well as well, shots down the field. So I thought it was really well done.”
Stroud entered Ohio State’s pro day as the betting favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL draft, and with 14 members of the Carolina Panthers organization in attendance to watch him throw in Columbus, Stroud didn’t disappoint.
NFL teams with most representation at @OhioStateFB pro-day:#Panthers- 14#Giants- 9#Seahawks-8#Saints-8#Titans- 7#Jaguars-6#Cowboys-5#Steelers-5#Raiders-5#Patriots-5#Browns-5— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 22, 2023
More than 2-3 reps at pro-days is unusual. Speaks to respect NFL has for Ryan Days program. pic.twitter.com/e6rInHd0l8
After lighting it up during a throwing session at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month, Stroud put on an encore performance at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year passed the ball to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson, Cade Stover, Jayden Ballard and Mitch Rossi for nearly 30 minutes, displaying his arm strength, accuracy and touch both in the pocket and on the move.
And while Stroud’s next in-game pass will be for an NFL franchise, his workout caused Day to reminisce about his days in scarlet and day.
“Oh, there's a big part of me (that wishes Stroud was returning to Ohio State). I can tell you that right now,” Day said. “We got three guys in there who are out as juniors leaving early. I was just talking to a couple of the coaches. There's a big part of me that hates to see them leave.”
But Day knows Stroud is ready for the next level. Both on and off the field, Day said Stroud has exhibited everything an NFL team would hope to see from a top-flight quarterback prospect – even before his pre-draft workouts.
“First off, he has the right make-up just in terms of who he is as a person, his leadership and his ability to handle himself in a professional manner,” he said. “But then on the field, just his ability to throw the ball in the pocket. I think he projects really, really well into the NFL. The way that he can throw the ball on third down, his anticipation, his touch, his vision downfield. He keeps his eyes downfield even when the pocket's broken down, and we've seen that time and time again here at Ohio State. But that's gonna carry over to the NFL, because he just has a great feel in there.”
In terms of the expectations that await Stroud as a surefire top-five pick in the NFL, Day said his pupil’s college career has already proven he can handle the heat.
“When you come to be the quarterback at Ohio State, it is almost like a test to go see how you can handle it in the NFL. And I shared that with some of the personnel and some of the folks that I met with here,” Day said. “If you can handle being the quarterback at Ohio State, then you can handle being in the NFL. And I think he's passed all of those tests and he'll continue to do that.”
Day doesn’t have a ready-made quarterback comparison to solidify his thoughts on Stroud’s future, but said the California native is the total package and has a skill set that will translate over to the highest level of the sport.
“He's his own player. It's hard, and I think sometimes it's not fair to really put them into, 'OK, he's like this guy.' Because there's mindset, there's athleticism, there's the way the ball comes out of his hand, there's throwing motion, there's all those different things that come into it,” Day said. “So I think he did a great job and I think he checks all the boxes.”
But what did Stroud think of his own workout? He said “there’s a couple of them I missed,” but that it “definitely just felt good slinging it around.” Stroud was particularly fond of his final pass of the day, a cross-field deep ball to Buckeye wideout Jayden Ballard after evading a simulated pressure in the pocket.
That pass might’ve drawn the biggest reaction of the day from those in attendance at the WHAC, and for good reason.
C.J. Stroud said his final throw at OSU pro day was his favorite, a bomb across the field to Jayden Ballard after evading the rush: pic.twitter.com/zoI7CXkS71— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) March 22, 2023
Stroud didn’t run the 40-yard dash, but said “I don’t think I really needed to.” Stroud didn’t often show off his wheels throughout his Buckeye career, but with scouts and analysts still buzzing about his ability to make plays on the run against Georgia in the College Football Playoff, Stroud has the tape to back it up.
“I think I have enough on film where I can show (that). None of the teams asked me to. If they would have, then I would have,” Stroud said. “But I don't think I really needed (to). Didn't even practice it, so. When I need to extend plays, I extend them just as fine as anybody else in the country. If not, you got to watch the tape.”
Both the combine and pro day are now in the rearview mirror for Stroud, but his pre-draft evaluations aren’t done yet. Stroud’s had extensive conversations with a host of organizations already, but said he still has plenty of individual workout sessions and interviews ahead of him.
“I'm gonna try to do really well in these private workouts and these interviews that I have coming up to the draft. But I mean, I think what's special about this is that I can control what I can control on the field, and I don't got to make the decision right now,” Stroud said. “So it's not like me coming to Ohio State. The decision's not on me, so I get to just chill and do what I love to do.
“I'm willing to go anywhere to bring a Super Bowl or whatever the case may be. Just be myself, man. I don't want to put a ceiling or anything on anything. But whatever happens happens, and whatever team I go to, man, I'll be blessed to go there.”
With the ultimate decision out of his hands, Stroud is focused on putting his best foot forward for any potential suitors. But given how he performed on Wednesday, not to mention the Panthers’ obvious interest in his talents, it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll be the first player off the board on April 27.
And that’s something Stroud’s wanted since he was a kid.
“It's been a dream of mine for a very, very long time. My dad used to make me wear a first-round draft pick, first pick in a draft shirt,” Stroud said. “It was either basketball or football, one of the two. But he set that foundation early on and definitely want to of course accomplish that. But if not, man, I just want to go to whoever really loves me, not only as a football player, but as a man of God and as a man of community.”