2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 best prospects in the Big Ten entering the regular season

The Big Ten produced seven first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Five member institutions were represented. It’s too early to tell if next year’s conference will reproduce similar numbers, but it’s clear there’s talent again, scattered across the Big Ten’s presence.

Here are the top preseason draft prospects in the conference:

10. Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa

LaPorta isn’t a flashy player, but he does everything well enough. There is no need to take him off the field. Despite having an average top speed, LaPorta is capable of making catches outside of his frame. According to TruMedia, 71.7% of his receptions went to either a first down or a touchdown, which ranked him 26th among all pass catchers with at least 40 receptions. The Illinois native is physical on his routes and does a good job as a blocker to absorb contact.

His goal percentage has increased every year in Iowa City, reaching a crescendo of 53 receptions for 670 yards and three touchdowns last season.

9. Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland

Duncan looks like an NFL offensive tackle: good height, good athleticism, and long arms. All the tools are there to be a high-end gamer. His hands are a bit shocked, but he’s better at landing punches. The Maryland native showed improvements throughout the season. There were some problems with translating his passing stance, which often led to internal pressure from the defender.

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Terps offensive lineman Spencer Anderson is another to watch. He has played in several positions but seemed most comfortable playing inside.

8. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

Witherspoon has good altitude and average top speed to play at the limit. He reaches top speed quickly and plays aggressively on the descents. The Florida native shows a good understanding of route distribution but has been known to gamble. Illinois defenders have gained a lot of confidence and coaches are bolstering them.

7. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

The former NFL linebacker’s son has two years of significant playing experience at Happy Valley. Porter is a good size for the position and good overall speed to stay in the receiver’s waist pack. Opposing teams completed 50.8% of passes against the California native in primary coverage. Ball production was limited to this point in his career.

Wide receiver Parker Washington and edge rusher Adisa Isaac are a few other Nittany Lions to watch.

6. Durell Nchami, Rand, Maryland

The Maryland native almost completely missed the 2021 season with an upper-body injury. In his limited time on the field, he showed an ability to defend the edge and flex on the high side of his rushes. Nchami can quickly reach his top speed but needs to develop more counters.

According to TruMedia, he pressured 18.3% of his pass rushes. He recorded three sacks in four games.

5.Rakim Jarrett, WR, Maryland

Jarrett had one of the wildest recruits in recent memory. After an initial stint at LSU for nearly eight months, the 5-star wide receiver transferred to his home country’s state school on National Signing Day. Although Jarrett was productive in 2021, he has an increasingly higher cap now that he’s settled into his role. The runner-up has shown outward versatility, as well as a good burst and soft hands.

He registered 62 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns in 2021.

4. Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio

The former 5-star recruit has a massive wingspan that allows him to disrupt overtaking lanes when his rush attempts don’t make it home. Harrison has great top speed and size for the position. He has the necessary athleticism to cover route leaks from the backfield. Despite all the physical traits, he only has a total of 8.5 sacks in his career. If the Columbus native is able to pull it all together, he could find himself in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

Smith-Njigba quietly rallied 95 receptions for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns, despite all the notoriety that came to later first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. The stage is his in 2022. The Texas native displays good range and has a natural feel for the game that allows him to navigate weak spots in a zone.

Smith-Njigba caught 84.8% of passes where he was the primary target, which was the seventh best according to TruMedia.

2. Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwest

Skoronski does a good job of adjusting his hands and feet once engaged. Although he played left tackle last season, some wonder if he would be best served moving inside to guard or center. In a league starved for quality offensive tackle play, Skoronski should, and likely will, get a chance to play on the fringes first. He was credited with allowing 20 presses on 416 pass-blocking snaps, according to TruMedia.

Cornerback AJ Hampton Jr. is another player to watch. He has shown good coverage skills over a long period of time.

1. CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Stroud has good arm strength in addition to touch throwing and good ball placement on the field. His throwing motion and footwork improved throughout the season which is a testament to the time and energy he puts into preparation. The native Californian has a natural feeling and can improvise due to the defensive approach.

In his first full season as a starter, the 6-foot-3 quarterback completed 317 of his 441 attempts for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and six interceptions. According to TruMedia, he had the second-highest passer efficiency, fourth-highest completion percentage (71.9%), and fifth-best quarterback sack rate (2.6%).

Paris Johnson Jr.’s switch to left tackle should stand him in good stead next season, but his inclusion on the list would have been more of a projection and less based on what the film revealed.

Michigan and Wisconsin aren’t particularly absent from this list, but each team has a lot of potential. The Wolverines are drawing on several new contributors, including safety RJ Moten and running back Blake Corum. The recently added edge rusher eyabi anoma can also make an important contribution. For the Badgers, the intrigue lies at the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackle Keeanu Benton and edge rusher Nick Herbig were already productive. Much like Johnson, Jack Nelson’s move from right guard to left tackle should stand him in immense stead.

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