Image by NFL Draft/C.J. Stroud
By Nick Shook/NFL.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — NFL personnel evaluators flocked to the campus of Ohio State on Wednesday for a chance to see C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Paris Johnson Jr. and other Buckeyes prospects participate in the school’s pro day. Thirty of 32 teams were represented, with seven head coaches and 10 general managers credentialed to attend. Here are six takeaways from the day’s events.
1) Stroud shines. If anyone wondered whether C.J. Stroud’s NFL Scouting Combine performance was a fluke, they got their answer Wednesday: absolutely not.
Stroud, ranked as the draft’s top quarterback by NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, put together another fantastic performance at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during his pro day workout.
Stroud spent most of the early portion of the day in a gray Nike track suit, standing front and center, cheering on his teammates while they tested in the vertical jump, bench press and 40-yard dash. When the time came for him to throw, the show truly began.
With hits from Rick Ross and Meek Mill pumping through the facility’s speakers, Stroud worked through a full script of passes, displaying his abilities in front of a throng of NFL scouts, coaches, front office personnel and media members gathered inside Ohio State’s field house. Former Buckeyes teammates Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson, Jayden Ballard and Cade Stover ran routes for Stroud, who consistently connected with them throughout the session, ending it by evading a simulated pass rush and dropping a deep dime on Ballard.
Stroud was just as sharp as he was during his awe-inspiring showing in Indianapolis, completing throws with precise timing and ball placement, and showing off one of his greatest strengths: accuracy. When the script called for some tests of his mobility, he worked inside the pocket well, too. The only time he showed any minor difficulties was when throwing off-platform while rolling to his left, and even then, the passes still landed within their intended target’s catch radius.
“He’s a pinpoint passer,” said Brooks during NFL+ live coverage of the event. “We always talk about when you have these things like the combine and pro day, you want to show off your superpower. We talked about how his ability to paint the strike zone was his superpower. He put that on display today.”
Stroud wasn’t quite as perfect as he was in Indianapolis, but he was still good — really good.
“It felt good,” Stroud said afterward during an interview with NFL Network’s David Carr. “Of course, you want some throws back. Those are the ones I’m thinking about, but I thought it came out of my hand well. I thought I just stamped what I can do on the field.”
2) Speed question answered. After declining to participate in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago, Jaxon Smith-Njigba began his pro day with plenty of eyes trained on him.
Would he run?
He did — and solidified the scouting report on him.
Smith-Njigba gave it one quality shot, checking the box with an unofficial time that certainly won’t hurt his stock. One team had Smith-Njigba at 4.53 seconds, while NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported others had him in the 4.48-4.52 range.
Most importantly, Smith-Njigba looked exactly as he did on film. And that game tape will likely lead him toward a first-round selection in April, with Brooks ranking him as the draft’s top wide receiver.
“He can do everything that you ask him to do,” Harrison said of Smith-Njigba. “… His ball skills are tremendous, and he can run every route on the route tree. You’re getting a wide receiver one, for sure.”
As Smith-Njigba’s former roommate and running mate, Harrison would know. When Smith-Njigba stepped to the line, Harrison rose from a knee and waved toward his teammate, delivering words of encouragement.
“The bond that we build off the field has been really special to me,” Harrison told me afterward. “I just want to see nothing but him succeed at the next level. I know the questions about his speed were in the air, but I think he put them to bed today.”
3) Panthers doing their homework. Stroud began his pro day experience by meeting with the Carolina Panthers, owners of the No. 1 overall pick, on Tuesday night. The Panthers sent a large contingent to Columbus to watch Stroud perform, including owner David Tepper, head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer.
One of the first attendees to interact with Stroud following his stellar throwing session was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Reich. Whether their presence is a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but they’re certainly doing their due diligence on this quarterback class.
Stroud was grateful for their efforts to get to know him.