It’s never too early to look ahead. With the Big Ten’s spring football calendar officially in the rearview, we’re on to the 2022 season and — as important — the 2023 NFL Draft. Specifically, we’re taking a looking at some of the top NFL prospects in the Big Ten.

Penn State wrapped up the 2022 draft cycle with the most players drafted of any Big Ten school with eight, followed by Ohio State with six, Michigan and Wisconsin with five and both Michigan State and Minnesota with four. That Ohio State number is notable for how low it is in context and how much it could rebound next year. Six players isn’t a low draft number for most schools, but Ohio State isn’t most schools. Six players is the fewest the Buckeyes have put in the draft since 2015, early in Urban Meyer’s tenure. But after putting a whopping 55 players in the draft from 2016-21, the Buckeyes could be back toward double digits next spring.

Here’s a look at my favorite prospect at each school as we head into summer.

Big Ten East

Ohio State: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR

Quarterback C.J. Stroud might wind up being the higher draft selection, and both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave were obvious first-round receivers in last month’s draft — but this guy is different. He could be better than all of them.

Smith-Njigba runs routes the way a great point guard strings along a defense in transition on a basketball court: everything at his pace. Olave and Wilson will likely carry faster combine 40s — 4.39 and 4.38, respectively — but neither matched JSN’s 96 catches for 1,606 yards last season. Both are Ohio State records.

Smith-Njigba’s ability to create space for himself with the subtle movements and wiggles mid-route is unmatched nationally. His size (6-foot-0, 198) is never going to be ideal at the next level, but in terms of draft-eligible receivers who know how to get open and understand space both before and after the catch, Smith-Njigba is as good as it gets. He will run back to the football. His hands are reliable. He was Ohio State’s best player in 2021 for my money.

Ohio State should top its 2022 total of six selections, as Smith-Njigba, Stroud, OL Paris Johnson Jr., DL/edge Zach Harrison and OT Dawand Jones all have first-round potential.

 

Penn State: Joey Porter Jr., CB

He’s the same height as his father, former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, but likely with more length. Porter boasts reported 35-inch arms to go along with his 6-2 frame. He covers so much ground with his length and has enough burst to recover and close passing windows quickly.

Porter is a patient corner in press coverage. At times, it can feel too patient. But he’s at his best when he’s able to use the sideline as a defender and allow his length to erase lanes for both the quarterback to find and the receiver to run through. He’s physical when he needs to be and a good tackler who knows how to use his length.