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3 Buckeyes projected to be taken in first round of USA Today’s NFL mock draft

Denzel Ward would be the fifth Ohio State cornerback taken in the first round in the last five years.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is still more than four months away, but the mock drafts are already out in full force. USA Today released their first 2018 mock draft earlier today, and three Buckeyes are projected to be picked in the first round. According to USA Today’s projections, a Buckeyes is going to have to wait for most of the first round to hear their name called, though.

Denzel Ward is projected to the Los Angeles Rams at pick number 26 in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ward would add to the Ohio State flavor already in Los Angeles, as both Joey Bosa and Cardale Jones are currently members of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The next Buckeye off the board would likely be very happy if the New England Patriots took him with the 31st pick in the NFL Draft in April. Defensive end Sam Hubbard would likely play a big part early on defense for the reigning Super Bowl champions. Currently the only former Buckeye on the Patriots is Nate Ebner, who is on injured reserve, but throughout the years Ohio State alumni have littered the New England roster.

Rounding out the first round in this mock draft, center Billy Price is projected to be taken with the 32nd pick by the Minnesota Vikings. This would reunite former Ohio State offensive lineman Pat Elflien with Price, who Price took over center for in Columbus this year.

Obviously with so much time before April’s NFL Draft, plenty will change, but it is fun to get an early idea on where some of the best Buckeyes from this year’s team might land.

“We call it competitive excellence. A lot of people have to step up, a lot of roles have to get filled, and a lot of young boys have to get to work.”

Ohio State running back Demario McCall via Nicholas Piotrowicz, The Toledo Blade

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you know Ohio State is going to have a new quarterback next season. On Friday night, J.T. Barrett took the field as the starting quarterback of the Buckeyes for the last time. Luckily Ohio State won’t have to look too far for Barrett’s replacement, as Dwayne Haskins should be the favorite to take Barrett’s spot, especially after how Haskins played in relief of an injured Barrett in the Michigan game.

What should worry some Ohio State fans is who will be protecting Haskins, or whoever ends up being the Buckeye quarterback. Not only has center Billy Price, who started every game over the past four years, exhausted his eligibility, but tackle Jamarco Jones has also graduated.

The biggest exodus for Ohio State will come on the defensive line. Defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes, along with defensive tackles Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill have graduated, while defensive end Sam Hubbard has declared for the NFL Draft. At least the Buckeyes will have starters Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones returning, along with young stars like Chase Young ready to make a name for themselves.

Luckily Urban Meyer and his staff have become familiar with have to replace starters. Not only does Ohio State have to replace their seniors year after year, but they annually have a high number of underclassmen declaring for the draft because of their talent. The Buckeyes will be fine in the end, and a new crop of talent always seems to rise to the top in Columbus.

“You see it all the time (where) teams lose games because it comes down to free throws. In the Big Ten a lot of these games come down to one or two possessions or one or two points.”

Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate via Adam Jardy, The Columbus Dispatch

There already has been plenty of changes with the Ohio State basketball team this year, but the most welcoming change is how the Buckeyes are shooting their free throws. Last year Ohio State shot free throws at just a 68.2 percent clip, which was fourth-worst in the Big Ten. Now as the Buckeyes jump back into conference play tonight, Ohio State is 73.3 percent from the charity stripe, which is fifth-best in the conference.

One big reason for the improvement from the foul line is the return of Keita Bates-Diop, who missed most of last season due to injuries. The junior is shooting 81.3 percent from the free throw line, which is third-best on the team. Bates-Diop has shot 54 free throws this season, which is second on the team.

If Ohio State continues this pace at the free throw line, they’ll have their best season from the charity stripe in the last 16 seasons, when they shot 71.8 percent from the foul line. Also, if the Buckeyes keep up their solid shooting at the foul line, they could also close out games they might not have over the past few years, and find themselves in the NCAA Tournament after missing the last two.

On Monday morning the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class will be announced live on SportsCenter. Ohio State will be trying to add to their heavy Hall of Fame occupation, as they have three nominees on this year’s ballot.

Keith Byars will trying to join Ohio State running backs such as Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Vic Janowicz in the College Football Hall of Fame. Byars ran for 3,200 yards at Ohio State, and was the 1984 Big Ten MVP.

Fullback Jim Otis was a member of the 1968 national championship team, and was named a First Team All-American in 1968. Otis led Ohio State in rushing in three different seasons, with his best total coming in 1969 when he rushed for 1,027 yards.

Chris Ward won four Big Ten title during his time in Columbus, and was named First Team All-Big Ten three times. In 1976 and 1977, Ward was named a First Team All-American. Ward was a part of the offensive line that blocked for Archie Griffin during his second Heisman Trophy campaign in 1975.

Ohio State currently has 25 players and six coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. The last inductee into the Hall of Fame from Ohio State was Tom Cousineau in 2016. If any Buckeyes are inducted into the Hall of Fame, it is likely only one will be, as Ohio State hasn’t had multiple inductees in the same year since 1971 when Francis Schmidt and Bill Willis were inducted together.