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Projecting Ohio State's 2016 NFL Draft prospects

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After just five Buckeyes were drafted last week in the 2015 NFL Draft, we take a very early look at the 2016 NFL Draft.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 College Football Playoff National Champions only had five members drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft, but they are primed to dominate the 2016 NFL Draft with a possible five or six first rounders and a plethora of other players drafted. Here, we breakdown the seniors, the underclassmen who should (will) enter the 2016 draft and the ones on the fence. The 2016 Ohio State NFL Draft class could be historic.

The seniors

Taylor Decker: It feels like his forgettable first collegiate start versus Khalil Mack was ages ago, as Decker has transformed himself into a 2016 first round prospect. Decker could have left school to enter the draft following the national championship but he decided to return for his senior season. Look for the protector of the blindside to cement his status as one of the top tackles in the nation in 2015.

Early projection: First round

Adolphus Washington: Washington came to Ohio State as a highly touted five-star talent and although most have been waiting for him to dominate on the stat sheet, he has been a fixture on the defensive line for the past two seasons. With the loss of defensive tackle Michael Bennett and the uncertainty of who his replacement will be, Washington will command double teams in the middle of the defensive line. With a solid senior season, he could bump up to a solid day-two prospect.

Early projection: 2nd-4th round

Joshua Perry: Perry is a workout warrior who has been a rock for the Buckeye defense the past two seasons. He does not make the flashy plays but has been consistent (led the team in tackles in 2014) and dependable since he was inserted into the starting lineup. Perry has the size (6'4, 250 pounds), sideline-to-sideline speed and the experience of playing inside, strong-side and weak-side linebacker to entice scouts.

Early projection: 2nd-4th round

Braxton Miller: Everyone knows Miller's story, he is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year who missed all of last season after re-injuring his shoulder requiring a second surgery. Now, he is in a dog fight with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones for the starting quarterback job. The health of Miller's shoulder will be the question mark heading into summer, but he brings dynamic big-play ability and athleticism that the other two do not. From a NFL standpoint, Miller does not have the throwing accuracy, durability or composure in the pocket to be a future NFL starting quarterback, so a positional change may be needed at the next level. A team will likely take a day-three flier on his athleticism and potential at another position.

Early projection: Day three selection

Nick Vannett: Vannett took over the majority of the tight end snaps last season as Jeff Heuerman recovered from a foot injury and he did not disappoint. He finished with 220 yards and five touchdowns on 19 receptions and was more than an exceptional blocker in the run game. Vannett has the body type, mixed with decent enough athleticism to be a day three selection. With Heuerman out of the picture, Vannett will come into the season as the number one tight end and he should build on his 2014 performance.

Early projection: Day three selection

Chase Farris: Farris has switched from the defensive line to the offensive line a couple of times in his career, but he settled down as the sixth lineman last season before winning the starting right tackle job this spring. Farris has good size (6'5, 310 pounds) and this season will be his one-and-only shot to impress NFL scouts.

Early projection: Undrafted

Jacoby Boren: Despite being undersized (6'1, 285 pounds), Boren backed-up Corey Linsley for two seasons before winning the starting center job last year en route to being a key member of an improving offensive line. Boren's size may make scouts overlook him, but when they break down the tape, they will see a constant performer in the middle who should be given a shot to crack a NFL roster.

Early projection: Undrafted

Underclassmen who should declare

Joey Bosa: There is not much to say about Bosa other than when it is all said and done, he may be the number one pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The St. Thomas Aquinas product has been unblockable since his freshman season and in 2015, he will be looking to build on his All-American sophomore campaign. Bosa would have likely been a top-five selection if he could have declared at the end of last season. Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage noted that one NFL team evaluated linemen based on their performance versus Bosa. He will go top-five but it would not be surprising to see him selected number one overall.

Early projection: Top 5 pick, definite first round

Cardale Jones: Jones is one of the most interesting NFL prospects in a long, long time. He entered last season as the third string quarterback and finished the season as the quarterback who led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title, a win over Alabama and a National Championship Game win over Oregon en route to being declared a potential first round pick. After holding a press conference about his future, '12 Gauge' decided to come back to Ohio State and compete against the two men whom he lost the job to, just one year ago. Jones is the most NFL-ready of the three possible starting quarterbacks, as he stands at 6'5, 250 pounds and makes the scouts drool with his rocket arm strength. If he wins the job and performs as expected, he has a chance to be a top-10 pick, if he does not win the job he will still most likely be a first round selection in 2016.

Early projection: Possible top 10 pick, definite first round

Ezekiel Elliott: The St. Louis product started the season slower than most expected, but finished with a bang; rushing for an absurd 696 yards and eight touchdowns in the final three games of the season. He will head into the 2015 season as a Heisman front-runner and barring injury, he should eclipse 1,500 yards on the ground.  Elliott has an elite mix of size, speed and power that should make him a first round pick if he forgoes his senior season for the 2016 NFL Draft. Running backs were once again taken in the first round of this year's draft, setting the perfect precedent for Elliott.

Early projection: First round

Darron Lee: Lee exploded onto the scene in 2014 and was Ohio State's most consistent playmaker on defense. Lee is in the Ryan Shazier/ Shaq Thompson mold, one who can excel in multiple areas from the linebacker position. Whether it be in coverage, rushing the passer as a blitzer or off the edge, he excels and is solid against the run. If Lee builds on his 2014 campaign, he will be one of the most feared linebackers in the country and a first round selection if he decides to leave Columbus.

Early projection: First round

Underclassmen who could declare

Vonn Bell: With the NFL being a pass-happy league, teams are looking for a safety with range to make plays in the passing game rather than a slower safety to play in the box for run support. This was evident in the 2015 NFL Draft, with Landon Collins sliding to the second round due to pass coverage concerns, while the ball-hawking free safety Damarious Randall was selected in the first round. Enter Bell, who led the Buckeyes and was tied for the fourth most interceptions with six in the 2014 season. Bell will be conveyed on the next level and there will be a good chance he will head to the NFL if he gets a second round, or higher, grade following the 2015 season.

Early projection: 60% chance he declares for the 2016 NFL draft.

Michael Thomas: It took Thomas two seasons to get on the field, but he made his mark in 2014 by leading 'Zone 6' in receptions. Thomas flashes big-play ability whenever he touches the ball and he also possesses great ball skills by going up and attacking the football at its highest point. He is also dazzling after the catch, making defenders miss and using his speed to outrun defensive backs. Being Keyshawn Johnson's nephew, he has NFL bloodlines and in 2015, he should make his mark as one of the best wide receivers in the country. Look for Thomas to put up serious numbers this season and bolt to the NFL while his stock is high.

Early projection: 70% chance he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft.

Jalin Marshall: Marshall had to wait until Dontre Wilson suffered an injury to be considered a top playmaker for the Buckeyes, but once he was thrust into the starting pivot role, he shined. Marshall did everything for the Ohio State offense and made it easier on the two new quarterbacks by showing off his reliable hands and excelling after the catch. In the spring, Marshall was playing wide receiver rather than the pivot role, which will allow him to work on his route running for the NFL. He has fluid athleticism, which should allow him to become a great route runner and impress scouts, which would give him a reason to leave school early.

Early projection: 40% chance he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft.

Underclassmen who could but should not declare

Tyvis Powell: Just like Bell, Powell is an able tackler who succeeds in coverage, which is a trait that will make him a commodity in the NFL. Powell is listed at 6'3, 210 pounds and has solid range in coverage. An unheralded recruit, Powell has worked hard to crack the starting lineup and his work ethic should be rewarded as an NFL draft pick... in 2017.

Early projection: 70% chance he stays in school.

Eli Apple: Apple will get his chance as a boundary cornerback this year to take over the vacancy left by Doran Grant. Apple showed vast improvement from the beginning of 2014 to the end of the season and he could be Ohio State's next shutdown cornerback. Apple will most likely stay in school another season but it would not surprise me if he left after a strong 2015 campaign as the Buckeye's number one corner.

Early projection: 60% chance he stays in school.

Pat Elflein: Elflein brings attitude, versatility and consistency to the middle of the offensive line and he has the most NFL upside besides Decker out of the starting five. Elflein, being only a one year starter, could be a day three prospect but if he waits until the 2017 NFL Draft, his stock could be much higher.

Early projection: 50% chance he stays in school.

J.T. Barrett: Barrett is a cool, calm and collective signal-caller but he will be the front-runner in 2016 and 2017 even if he does not see the field in 2015. Barrett has great pocket presence, accuracy and decision making skills which would make him a viable NFL option, but he lacks arm strength and appropriate size to make him a day two selection. Barrett will most likely play out his career at Ohio State and enter the draft when his eligibility is maxed out.

Early projection: 75% chance he stays in school.

Dontre Wilson: Wilson was a highly sought after recruit who was famously flipped by Urban Meyer from Oregon and saw time as a freshman. He has lacked the big-play ability that most thought they would see by now and then his 2014 season was ended abruptly by an injury in the Michigan State game. Wilson may see all of the pivot position talent coming into Columbus, along with Marshall, and bolt for the NFL if he puts together a healthy, productive 2015 season. A crowded depth chart could force his hand to leave earlier than most expect and it should not be a surprise if he enters the 2016 NFL Draft.

Early projection: 60% chance he stays in school

Cameron Johnston: Specialists sometimes feel inclined to strike when the iron is hot and Johnston could be a dark horse to enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Johnston would have to have a Brad Wing-type final season to declare early. It would not be as surprising as some may think and it is worth keeping an eye on in 2015.

Early projection: 75% chance he stays in school.