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Ohio State looks to continue its elite draft streak this spring

Denzel Ward headlines a Buckeye draft class that has several potential first-round picks.

Big Ten Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

“The Raiders may have used their first two picks on defensive backs last year, but they still need help in the back half.”

-Dan Kadar, SB Nation

Under Urban Meyer, Ohio State has turned into a powerhouse at churning out NFL-caliber players. The Buckeyes had a dozen players taken in 2016, and seven selected this past spring. This year doesn’t look to be too different, with four Ohio State players projected to go in the first round alone, according to SB Nation’s latest mock draft.

Chief among the group of prospects is cornerback Denzel Ward. This season was Ward’s first as a starter, but the junior is poised to follow in the footsteps of Marshon Lattimore, who was also selected in the first round after spending just one year as a starter. Selected as a first team All-American, Ward is one of the top defensive backs in this year’s draft along with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. Current projections have Ward heading to Oakland with the 14th-overall pick to join fellow Buckeye Gareon Conley in the secondary.

Next up is center Billy Price, who was also selected as a first team All-American with Ward. Price brings versatility to the offensive line, having played at both guard and center during his four years as a starter at Ohio State. He could go to join Taylor Decker, his teammate on the offensive line on the 2014 national championship squad, in Detroit with the 17th-overall pick.

Later in the first round, at the No. 27 spot, the Titans are projected to choose defensive end Sam Hubbard. While Hubbard has been playing somewhat in the shadow of Nick Bosa, who has absolutely dominated this season, the junior from Cincinnati is still a first-round talent. He is extremely versatile, having played at safety in high school, and could transition from the defensive line to linebacker with ease.

Finally, Jerome Baker has been the most consistent talent at linebacker this season for the Buckeyes, and could make a solid selection for Pittsburgh late in the first round, especially given Ryan Shazier’s uncertain future on the football field.

“It’s Brady’s position to lose at this point. The kid’s been in the program for four or five years now. He’s continued to get better. Him and I are having those one-on-one conversations. Let’s work on this. Let’s change this.”

-Ohio State center Billy Price, via David Jablonski, Dayton Daily News

The Ohio State Buckeyes will experience a massive loss after this season--quite literally. More than 600 pounds of offensive linemen will likely be headed to the NFL in center Billy Price and left tackle Jamarco Jones. Price is set to start his program-record 55th-straight game against USC in the Cotton Bowl, having started from his first game as a redshirt freshman in 2014. Jones, a true senior, has been a two-year starter on the line, and was a leader for the unit heading into the season. Now, as the pair prepares for their final game in scarlet and gray, these two seasoned veterans are looking to what the future holds for the Ohio State offensive line.

Price moved over from guard before this season, taking over for Rimington Trophy-winner Pat Elflein at the center spot. Price proved worthy of his new post, winning the Rimington Trophy himself last week as the top center in the country. Whoever comes in at center next season has a lot to live up to, but Price has confidence in Brady Taylor, his heir apparent. Taylor will be a fifth-year senior heading into next season, and has backed up Price all year with limited playing time. As the Buckeyes prepare for the Cotton Bowl later this month, Taylor has been seeing the lion’s share of snaps in practice as the line prepares for next season without Price.

Replacing Jones presents another challenge. Right tackle Isaiah Prince has taken limited snaps from the spot throughout the season and, as a two year starter, brings significant experience to the post even in a new role. Michael Jordan, who has started all season at left guard, will be another leader on the line heading into next season. Finally, Brandon Bowen, who played at right guard before experiencing a season-ending injury against Maryland, will return with half a season of snaps under his belt.

“We’ve got faith in each other, and we just push each other day by day to keep going. Next season I plan on having a great year. My number one goal is just to stay healthy and do what I do.”

-Ohio State H-back Demario McCall, via Ryan Ginn, Land of 10

Running back J.K. Dobbins stole the show on offense this season for Ohio State, following in Mike Weber’s footsteps as a 1,000 yard rusher as a freshman. Mike Weber, while coming back from injury to share snaps with Dobbins, still managed more than 600 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. J.T. Barrett also finally had a dynamic group of receivers who caught a collective 39 touchdowns on the season. And Barrett himself finished the season, once again, as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award.

However, as explosive as the offensive fireworks were this season, they lacked, for the most part, H-back Demario McCall. Prior to the season, McCall was projected to play a much larger role on the offense, but a groin injury wound up keeping him sidelined for much of the season, including the Buckeyes’ final seven games. With inconsistent pain, McCall’s status was determined on a week-by-week basis, but meant that he hasn’t seen the field since Ohio State routed Maryland in October.

Last season, McCall rushed for 270 yards on 49 carries while finding the endzone four times. He took a step back this season, gaining just 111 yards on the ground and rushing for one touchdown. Given the depth at the running back spot this season, Meyer opted to move McCall to more of a hybrid role, which he worked on with the scout team while he was sidelined much of this year.

Ohio State is seeking a medical redshirt for McCall, who was a true sophomore heading into this season. If successful, McCall will have three years of eligibility remaining when he returns in 2018. McCall is widely recognized on the team for his positive attitude, and credits his support system--namely his teammates and father--for helping him through this season.