Skull Session: Ohio State Needs a Course Correction in 2023, Six Former Buckeyes Make PFF's Top 101 NFL Players in 2022 and Some People View C.J. Stroud As a "Consolation Prize" to Bryce Young

By Chase Brown on February 28, 2023 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch

The NFL Scouting Combine starts today, so the football season is back in full swing (as if it ever stopped).

That's a beautiful thing that I am very excited about. I'm sure you are, too.

Let's have a good Tuesday, shall we?

 A SIMPLE COURSE CORRECTION WILL DO. When Ohio State begins spring practices on March 7, Ryan Day and Co. can start to formulate answers to questions surrounding the Buckeyes as they approach the 2023 season. For the folks here at Eleven Warriors, those questions include, but are not limited to:

  1. Will Kyle McCord or Devin Brown be the starting quarterback?
  2. Can the defense become elite in Jim Knowles' second year?
  3. How will the Buckeyes replace key departures on the offensive line?
  4. Can Ohio State get back on track in The Game?
  5. Will the Buckeyes make the final four-team College Football Playoff?

Depending on who you talk to, any of the five questions listed (or a question not listed, for that matter) could be the most important to answer during the offseason. For Josh Pate of CBS Sports, sorting out the quarterback competition will be the top priority for Ohio State over the next six months. He explained why on a recent episode of The Late Kick.

"You're looking for very, very slight course corrections that get them where they want to be. At Ohio State, it's clear as day. It's like Alabama and Georgia – the biggest questions these three programs face are about the quarterback competition. Ryan Day has been on record and will continue to be on record as saying, 'We got an open quarterback competition here.' Kyle McCord has been there for a while, but Devin Brown has also been there. While you know far less about Devin Brown, I firmly believe what they're saying that it will be an open quarterback competition."

Pate also believes that Day finding the right quarterback to lead Ohio State will be critical for the program to beat Michigan after back-to-back seasons where the Wolverines defeated the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor and Columbus.

"They've got a situation where nationally and regionally you will hear a lot of people saying, 'Oh, there's a gap now between Michigan and Ohio State.' No, there's not. There have been two years in a row where Michigan won a football game. There were several years in a row when Ohio State won a football game. ... There's not a big gap. There's just a course correction that has to happen. ... One of those is the quarterback competition. It's something to keep an eye on."

I appreciate the simplicity of Pate's argument for Ohio State to have a successful season in 2023 and, most importantly, defeat Michigan. All the Buckeyes need is a course correction, and that starts at quarterback.

While replacing C.J. Stroud will be no easy task for Day, he has a proven track record of picking the correct player to lead his offense. In 2018, he helped Urban Meyer pick Dwayne Haskins to replace J.T. Barrett. In 2019, he chose Justin Fields to replace Haskins. In 2021, he selected Stroud to replace Fields. I am confident he will also pick the correct player this time.

Regardless of who Day picks, I am confident that Ohio State's title of one of the best offenses in college football. It will undoubtedly look different without Stroud, but whether it's McCord or Brown, the Buckeyes will only need a slight course correction – one that will lead to the same incredible numbers we've seen from Day's offenses since he took over as head coach in 2019.

 DEVELOPED HERE. Ohio State football has many former NFL players, hence the program's "Developed Here" motto. But according to Pro Football Focus, a few former Buckeyes stood out this past season, contributing year-long performances that landed them on PFF's Top 101 players in 2022.

Those players will be no surprise to many who followed the NFL all year: Nick Bosa, Cameron Heyward, Garrett Wilson, Terry McLaurin, Corey Linsley and – if you want to count him as a Buckeye (I do) – Joe Burrow. Here is where they landed on PFF's list:

No. 3 - Joe Burrow

Cincinnati overhauled its offensive line to make Burrow’s life easier, but by playoff time, injuries meant the Bengals were right back where they started. Nonetheless, Burrow continued to look excellent, as he came up just short of completing four-straight wins against Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC title game.

No. 11 - Nick Bosa

One of the game's very best defenders this season, Bosa tied for the league lead with 90 pressures in the regular season before adding eight more in the playoffs. Bosa was a problem for any offense that had to block him, and he was the best run defender among the top edge rushers this season.

No. 29 - Cameron Heyward

With T.J. Watt missing from the lineup for half the season, Heyward had to do the heavy lifting for the Steelers' defense this season. He recorded 58 total pressures and 43 defensive stops, earning an 89.8 overall PFF grade.

No. 76 - Garrett Wilson

The work that Wilson was able to do despite the Jets' quarterback situation was remarkable for a rookie. He racked up more than 1,100 yards, and his 22 broken tackles with the ball in his hands were more than any receiver outside of Deebo Samuel.

No. 87 - Terry McLaurin

Yet again, McLaurin had to endure rough quarterback play in a season, and yet again he showed he can produce regardless. McLaurin caught 67.0% of the passes thrown his way in 2022 and led the team’s receivers by a distance with 2.04 yards per route run.

No. 95 - Corey Linsley

Linsley allowed just seven pressures across 15 games this past season, none of which were sacks. His run blocking wasn’t quite at the same level, but he has been arguably the best pass-blocking center in the game for several seasons.

I have to commend PFF for the whole list of 101 players, especially their placement of these Buckeyes. It's relatively accurate given each player's performance from this past season and reflects well upon the development they all received at Ohio State.

I would probably have Bosa higher because he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and I would say the same for Wilson after he won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Still, the fact that Bosa is No. 11 at 25 years old and Wilson is No. 76 at 22 years old is insane. For that reason, I won't pick nits.

I expect all those players to be featured on PFF's list next year, along with healthy versions of Joey Bosa and Chase Young, Justin Fields, Denzel Ward and Chris Olave. Perhaps Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and some others will be featured, too? One can hope, at least.

 A WORTHY "CONSOLATION PRIZE." One of the many comparisons we will see as  NFL draft season heats up during the scouting combine this week will be between Stroud and Alabama's Bryce Young. But other than size, how much difference exists between them as players?

Daniel Jeremiah of CBS Sports doesn't see much. When asked during an NFL conference call if he considers Stroud a "consolation prize" in the draft for teams unable to draft Young, Jeremiah said he likes Young better as a prospect but still sees tremendous value in Stroud as an NFL quarterback.

From NFL Communications:

“I like Bryce Young better on the tape but I think CJ Stroud is a really good player. If you’re not comfortable with that price to go up to get to that No. 1 pick? Stay where you are and get CJ Stroud? I would feel just fine about that. ... I think (Stroud) is just a pure thrower. The big question with him was, OK, not a lot of off-schedule, not a lot of playmaking. But then all of a sudden you see the semifinal game and you are like, dude, where has this been? He showed you he has that ability. ... The old scouting adage is if you can do it once, you can do it. So you know he does have that ability.

“Bryce is just a little bit more of a playmaker to me consistently when you watch him. I just love his instincts and feel, his ability to maneuver within the pocket I think is better. So I think Bryce Young is a better player. But I would not be totally bummed if you sat there at No. 2 and ended up with CJ Stroud.”

Jeremiah's comments don't indicate that he sees Stroud as a consolation prize to Young. However, I would assume Jeremiah was asked the question because at least some people – probably that reporter – view the Ohio State quarterback as precisely that when compared to Young. And whether Stroud would like to admit it or not, he heard that.

News broke on Monday that Stroud plans to throw at the combine this week, something Young will not do as he recovers from a shoulder sprain he suffered this past season. This, of course, is pure speculation on my part, but I think Stroud sees the opportunity to impress scouts and executives when his counterpart will not have the same chance.

I don't expect him to waste the opportunity, so be ready for Stroud to throw some absolute darts this week at Lucas Oil Stadium, a place he unfortunately never played at Ohio State. Still, his first memories at the venue can be just as memorable – maybe not as special as a Big Ten Championship, but if he shines like I expect him to, it could be.

 COMBINE TIME. Stroud won't be the only former Buckeye on display at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. Joining him will be Zach Harrison, Cam Brown, Ronnie Hickman, Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

The Ohio State football media team posted brief videos for all of them to social media on Monday as they prepared for the festivities in Indianapolis from Tuesday to Monday of next week. The media team started with Stroud and ended with Hickman.

Here is a look at all of them:

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Magdalene" by The 502s.

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