How many Big Ten prospects will go in the first round?
The fallout from this year’s draft is still fresh, and the college football season is a few months away. Nevertheless, it’s time to turn the chapter to the 2023 NFL Draft. The Big Ten has historically been one of the most well-represented conferences in the selection event. Will that trend hold true next season? Let’s delve into the top Big Ten prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft and see how many could fly off the board in Round 1.
How many Big Ten prospects in history have gone in the first round of the NFL draft?
In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Big Ten saw seven prospects drafted on Day 1 (second-most by a conference): Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (No. 2 – Detroit Lions), Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson (No. 10 – New York Jets), Ohio State WR Chris Olave (No. 11 – New Orleans Saints), Penn State WR Jahan Dotson (No. 16 – Washington Commanders), Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum (No. 25 – Baltimore Ravens), Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis (No. 30 – Kansas City Chiefs), and Michigan S Daxton Hill (No. 31 – Cincinnati Bengals).
From 1936-2009, the Big Ten had 296 players selected in the first round, the most of any conference. Since 2010 (last 13 drafts), the conference has averaged 4.92 players chosen on Day 1. So, with the history lesson out of the way, how many Big Ten prospects could hear their names called in the 2023 NFL Draft?
2023 NFL Draft: Big Ten prospects who could go in the first round
While it’s “way too early” to predict the outcome of the 2023 NFL Draft, we view this as an exercise in identifying the top draft-eligible talent in the conference. Keep in mind there will be players who fall further than we expect, others who rise from obscurity, and those who will return to school.
Near locks for Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft
I’m careful with the phrasing here, as there are few genuine “locks” in the NFL draft. But Ohio State has a pair of them. Barring injury, QB C.J. Stroud and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba will both likely be top-15 picks. Stroud is PFN’s early favorite to be the first signal-caller off the board, thus putting him in the No. 1 overall range. On top of their two explosive passing-game weapons, offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones are first-round caliber talents up front.
The Buckeyes are currently third in betting odds to win the national championship. If head coach Ryan Day’s squad can make a run at the College Football Playoff, it will only shine more light on their talented prospects.
Stroud and Smith-Njigba are tied to the hip — as one rises, so does the other. Meanwhile, Johnson will be starting at left tackle as a redshirt sophomore, and Jones will remain at right tackle. If all four play at or near their ceilings, Ohio State’s offense will be nearly unstoppable.
There’s only one other “near lock” in Round 1: Northwestern OT Peter Skoronski. As a true freshman in 2020, he took over for Rashawn Slater at left tackle, and the drop-off was minimal. Skoronski has allowed just four sacks in 1,500 total snaps played. Additionally, he has only been penalized on three occasions. If he is healthy for the entire year and continues his physical growth, there’s no reason Skoronski can’t join Slater as a first-round selection in the NFL draft.
Other Big Ten names to know in the 2023 NFL Draft
Ohio State’s Zach Harrison could’ve been a mid-to-late-round pick in last year’s loaded EDGE group. Now, Harrison can play his way into first-round consideration in a lighter class and as his team’s No. 1 pass-rush option.
But enough about the Buckeyes because there is talent all over the Big Ten. Michigan alone has a few players worthy of attention. Virginia transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi will be starting at the fulcrum of the line. While centers aren’t typically sought-after in the first round, Oluwatimi was a devasting run blocker in 2021.
Ryan Hayes is a 6’7″ left tackle that flashed as a first-year starter. And RB Blake Corum looked like the superior back to fourth-round pick Hassan Haskins. With the backfield now his, Corum could vault himself to the top of the class.
The Big Ten is also seething with WR talent behind Smith-Njigba. Michigan State’s Jayden Reed is returning for his redshirt-senior season after generating 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns. Maryland’s Dontay Demus Jr. took the top off defenses on the outside, but a gruesome leg injury cut his season short. And Penn State’s Parker Washington looks to fill Jahan Dotson’s shoes and become QB Sean Clifford’s go-to target.
- Rakim Jarrett, WR, Maryland
- Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland
- Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan
- Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
- Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa