Skull Session: C.J. Stroud "Nothing Shy of Brilliant" at Ohio State's Pro Day, Louis Riddick Compares JSN to Cooper Kupp and Ohio State is Becoming QBU

By Chase Brown on March 24, 2023 at 5:00 am
C.J. Stroud
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch

Congratulations, Eleven Warriors reader. You made it to the end of the week.

Time to party like a rockstar.

Let's have a good Friday, shall we?

 "NOTHING SHY OF BRILLIANT." On Tuesday, Ryan Day said C.J. Stroud performing well in the throwing session at Ohio State's pro day would be "an important piece of the puzzle" toward him becoming a top pick in the NFL draft. Good news: By all accounts, Stroud performed well, and by some accounts, Stroud performed really well.

According to ESPN's Todd McShay, Stroud laid it all on the line for the 118 NFL representatives at the event. That contingent included over a dozen coaches, scouts and executives from the Carolina Panthers, who possess the No. 1 overall pick after a trade with the Chicago Bears earlier this month. Even Carolina's owner, David Tepper, was in attendance for the pro day.

McShay wrote his takeaways from Stroud's performance in an article for and explained them on "Get Up" on Thursday.

“It wasn’t a perfect performance. I mean he missed two throws rolling out to his left. But the performance was nothing shy of brilliant, really. I loved the aggressiveness. Most quarterbacks in these Pro Days? They come out, they get warmed up. Short throws, quick outs, quick slants. He said I’m attacking. About his first 20 throws were rail shots down the sidelines. The right sideline, the left sideline – 35 to 45 yards. High trajectory, letting the receivers run under it. Some rope throws showing his velocity, the ability to drive the ball down the field.”

McShay raved over Stroud's ball placement as his best attribute, consistently putting the football where it needs to be and allowing his receivers to catch passes in stride. McShay explained that kind of precision is the difference between an elite NFL quarterback and a replaceable one.

“The thing that stands out with him when you watch his tape and was confirmed at the combine workout and confirmed again at his Pro Day workout was his ball placement. It was is as close to perfect as a quarterback can be. I mean knowing exactly where the ball should be. It’s not just a completion. It’s a completion that lets the receiver create yards after the catch or makes sure the defender has no chance to make a play on the ball. We saw that over and over again.”

That's high praise from McShay, and it is completely deserved.

Stroud made multiple throws on Wednesday that had everyone from Ohio State staff and NFL representatives to fans and media at the Woody making ooooooos and aaaaaaaaas. They looked effortless, or as Ryan Day described it, Stroud's throws came with "pace, he wasn't uptight, he was loose he was letting it rip, and the ball came out down the field really well ... I thought it was really well done."

It would appear, at least to me, that Tepper and the rest of the Panthers' organization believed the same to be true. That's at least what I'm picking up from their interaction with Stroud after he completed his session on Wednesday.

Stroud also met with the Panthers brass prior to his workout and will meet at least one more time before the draft, adding to the speculation that he will be the first player taken on April 27. Of course, Carolina will continue to do its due diligence and will visit Alabama for Bryce Young, Kentucky for Will Levis and Florida for Anthony Richardson before they lock in on one specific player.

However, after what I've seen from Stroud at the NFL Combine – a performance NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said was the best he's seen – and at Ohio State's pro day – a performance Day said was the best he's seen – it's hard for me to believe we will see Stroud is a uniform not featuring Carolina blue this fall.

 JSN → COOPER KUPP? Like Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba impressed NFL representatives at Ohio State's pro day with his route-running and athleticism. He also silenced his doubters with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash.

After the event, ESPN's Louis Riddick made headlines with a claim that Smith-Njigba's size and talent are worthy of comparison to Cooper Kupp, a first-team All-Pro, NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP for the Los Angeles Rams, who happens to be a player that every competently run NFL franchise would want on their team.

Riddick explained the comparison on Wednesday's broadcast of NFL Live:

"When you watch him go through his workout, he’s a fantastic route runner. He’s one of the very best as far as how he works from the slot. But he’s not just a slot receiver, he can play the X, he can play the Z, he can win outside. Brian Hartline, his wide receiver coach here and now the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, cannot say enough good things about this young man, that when it comes to winning contested situations… catching the ball in traffic, catching the ball in the various environments you have to catch it in the NFL… he can do it all... Think about Cooper Kupp. Think about how Cooper Kupp is used in LA. And think of bigger, maybe slightly bigger, just as fast if not faster and maybe a more pliable, more athletic, more fluid player who will block just as well. That may be what you’re getting in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, which I think 32 teams would take if they could get their hands on him.”

That doesn't just sound like a comparison to Kupp. That sounds like Riddick believes Smith-Njigba could be better than Kupp when all is said and done. He's "bigger, maybe slightly bigger, just as fast if not faster and maybe a more pliable, more athletic, more fluid player who will block just as well."

If there's even the smallest chance that this comparison becomes accurate in due time, NFL teams should be on the phones day and night to put themselves in a position to draft Smith-Njigba in the early picks of the first round.

And even if it doesn't become accurate, JSN is a player that's worth the risk, mainly because Ohio State wide receivers are just a different breed. Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, Terry McLaurin, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson – the list goes on. JSN will be the latest in that long line to shine once he makes the league. Maybe one day we'll be talking about him like Cooper Kupp, one of the best players in the league.

 IS OHIO STATE QBU? ESPN's Adam Rittenberg releases annual college football power rankings by each position on the field. However, there's one caveat: He ranks teams based on the present and the future (the next three years). His first article for 2023 ranked teams by their quarterbacks, which allowed Ohio State to take center stage.

Since Ryan Day arrived in Columbus in 2017, Ohio State has been a destination for top quarterback recruits, primarily because of how Day has developed the position over the years. Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields were both first-round picks, and C.J. Stroud will soon be a part of that exclusive club.

Looking ahead, Kyle McCord, Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz are the future at Ohio State. That talent is enough to rank the Buckeyes second on Rittenberg's list behind only USC, which possesses the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner in Caleb Williams. Hard to argue with that.

Here is what Rittenberg wrote about Ohio State's signal-callers:

Despite never winning the Big Ten with C.J. Stroud at quarterback, the Buckeyes will miss the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, who passed for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns the past two seasons. Like Riley, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has established enough credibility to churn out top quarterbacks every year, either from recruiting or the portal. Kyle McCord is likely the next man up. He was ESPN's No. 31 overall recruit in 2021 and could become Ohio State's QB1 for multiple seasons. Day also brought in Devin Brown, ESPN's No. 81 recruit in the 2022 class, and No. 4 pocket passer.

Although Ohio State's long-term outlook took a hit when Dylan Raiola, ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2024 class, decommitted from the team, the staff acted quickly in adding Lincoln Kienholz -- initially a Washington commitment -- late in the 2023 cycle. The key for Ohio State is McCord or possibly Brown panning out like Stroud did, as a productive multiyear option.

There are two positions I will never have concern over as long as Day and Brian Hartline are in Columbus, and that's at quarterback and wide receiver.

Why? Because the Buckeyes are head and shoulders above the rest of college football when it comes to recruiting that position. The warrant for that claim is Ohio State is still ranked second on Rittenberg's list despite two No. 1 overall recruits, Quinn Ewers (now at Texas) and Dylan Raiola (decommitted), not being considered in the rankings.

That's insane.

With Ohio State's recent history at quarterback and the program's excitement for its future players, the Buckeyes have a real chance to become QBU in the near future. That is, if it's not there already.

 REMEMBER: THEY'RE STUDENT-ATHLETES. Lost in all the chaos of athletic success and name, image and likeness deals is the fact that members of Ohio State's sports programs still hold the same old title of "student-athletes."

The Big Ten honored the "student" in that title this week as it named its Academic All-Big Ten honorees for its winter sports. As is usually the case, Ohio State led the conference in selections, with 124 Buckeyes earning the distinguished honor for 2022-23. Penn State was the next closest school with 104.

From Ohio State's official press release:

The 120 Ohio State winter sport athletes join 124 Buckeyes from fall sports who were recognized in December. Winter sports include men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving and wrestling. Spring and at-large sports selections will be announced in May. Ohio State leads the league in winter honorees and joins Penn State (106) as one of the two schools with over 100 student-athletes recognized.

To be eligible for Academic All-Big Ten selection, students must be on a varsity team (as verified by being on the official squad list as of March 1 for winter sports), have been enrolled full time at the institution for a minimum of 12 months and carry a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

The women’s swimming and diving program led the Ohio State winter sports with 28 honorees, followed by the men’s swimming and diving program with 22. Men’s hockey had 18, women’s gymnastics had 17 and men’s gymnastics team wrestling had 12 each. Women’s basketball had eight and men’s basketball had three.

To see the complete list of honorees, click here.

Cheers to the athletes for taking care of business in the classroom as their sports carried on over the past few months. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to balance those two lives and succeed in both athletics and academics, but by golly, those Buckeyes are doin' the dang thing and more power to 'em.

Keep up the good work, student-athletes.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Party Like A Rockstar" by Shop Boyz.

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