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.
NOTE: Check out NFL+ for live coverage of Alabama pro day beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 23, Kentucky pro day beginning at 1 p.m. ET on Friday, March 24 and Florida pro day beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 30.
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.
"I appreciate them coming out and spending time with me. It definitely meant a lot," Stroud said during his post-workout NFL+ interview. "Definitely had a great conversation. Didn't talk Xs and Os, just really talked about not only just who I was as a person, but my faith and some of the things I want to do with working with (non-profit organization) REFORM Alliance, some of the things I'm doing off the field that I want to continue to do to help other people, to inspire others. That's one of my biggest goals.
"So, I mean, they're really on board with everything. We'll see what happens. It's not in my control. I can just let God do his thing and do what I do on the field."
Stroud is a premier talent who also operates with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. It might date back to his high school days, during which Stroud rose from an overlooked prospect to one of the nation's top recruits in little more than a calendar year. More recently, Stroud has faced questions related to his mobility, which many see as an underutilized part of his game.
Stroud spoke about it at the combine, promising to show evaluators he was capable of creating opportunities with his legs. A good portion of his Wednesday script included throws on the run, another example of Stroud facing a challenge head-on. He wasn't perfect, but he was certainly good enough to alleviate any concerns about his game.
"That was like you're watching a professional golfer on a driving range just hitting every ball exactly how you want to hit it," NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during live coverage of the pro day on NFL+. "It looks so smooth and easy and natural. Now, there are maybe two throws he'd like to have back out of 55. He did everything he needed to do. He was outstanding at the combine. He backed it up today with an outstanding pro day."
4) A contrast in OTs. Stroud and Smith-Njigba weren't the only Ohio State players who had scouts' attention on Wednesday. A pair of Buckeyes offensive tackles are headed toward bright NFL futures, too.
Brooks ranks Paris Johnson Jr. (6-foot-6, 316 pounds at the combine) as the top tackle in the class, while former Ohio State teammate Dawand Jones is one of the biggest prospects we've ever seen at 6-8, 374 pounds (combine measurements). They have contrasting physical frames, with Johnson appearing leaner and moving more like a tight end than an offensive lineman. Jones, meanwhile, is massive, but surprisingly athletic for his size, possessing a devastating amount of power that's visible on film.
Johnson showed off his attributes on Wednesday, moving fluidly throughout drills and displaying a penchant for violence at the point of attack, shouting while blasting bags and shields. By the time he was finished, the center of Johnson's shirt was soaked with sweat, and he left the field wearing a satisfied expression.
The only mild disappointment of Wednesday came from Jones, who attended the pro day but declined to participate in the workout, including during the weigh-in. Jones said afterward he didn't have a reason for why he didn't weigh in, and explained he didn't work out on Wednesday because he felt he'd shown enough at the combine, where he ran the 40 (5.35 seconds) but did not participate in other athletic tests.
5) Another offensive lineman shines. Only two offensive linemen worked through the position group's set of drills Wednesday: Johnson and center Luke Wypler.
Johnson and Wypler worked in tandem throughout every drill, with one performing while the other held the blocking shield. They didn't let up for even one second due, in part, to the fact they knew it was the last time they'd share a field as teammates.
"It was funny, toward the end there, me and him were just looking at each other like 'Man, this is it. We better give it all we've got,' " Wypler said. "... We've been doing that for a few years together, so it was just fun to do it in front of a bunch of NFL personnel and scouts."
Wypler deserves credit for holding his own in a series of drills that simulated what he'll encounter when he faces hulking interior defensive linemen in the NFL. During multiple reps, Johnson forcefully shoved the shield into Wypler's chest, where Johnson was greeted by Wypler's punch. The difference in weight and force would stand up an average offensive lineman. Wypler, however, kept his base firm, knees bent and resisted the rush, showing a stoutness that should benefit him at the next level.
It's part of what Wypler sees as his strengths -- or as he described it, the advantage of being "built like a fire hydrant."
"If I start getting off balance, I have really good feet and good hips. I'm able to sink and keep my composure and my balance," said Wypler, who made my 2023 All-Combine Team.
6) Ivy League RB makes most of Columbus trip. Every once in a while, a pro day might feature a player seeking a second look from NFL scouts (i.e., Cam Newton throwing at Auburn this week), or a participant or two from nearby schools. However, Brown University -- located in Providence, Rhode Island, isn't exactly down the road from Columbus.
For running back Allen Smith, proximity didn't matter. His trip to Ohio -- where he grew up in the Columbus suburb of Westerville -- was all about competing with the best.
Smith received such an opportunity Wednesday, testing alongside the crop of Buckeyes while wearing his Brown gear. He arrived as an outsider, but after registering a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump, Ohio State's group couldn't ignore him.
Before long, they were rallying around the player simply known as "Smith" as if he was one of them.
"Definitely appreciate the guys welcoming me in," Smith told me. "(They) didn't act like I was an outsider, just another guy, another athlete trying to achieve the same dream we've had since we've been kids."
Smith described himself as an explosive player, and the numbers -- his impressive vertical and a 10-foot-6-inch broad jump -- backed up his claim. In a best-case scenario, Smith sees a Christian McCaffrey, do-everything type of role at the next level, but he'll be happy to do whatever is asked of him.
Smith's parents, Todd and Pam, were in attendance to support their son as he chases an NFL future.
"This kid gets up every day at 5 a.m., puts the work in," Todd Smith said of his son. "He's been doing it since he was a freshman in college. He's one of the most dedicated young men there is."
As Allen Smith said, "The fruits of the labor came out and showed today."
The work isn't done, however; he said he'll be headed to Indiana for another day of on-field testing Thursday at Holy Cross College.