Analysis Which Ohio State defenders will declare early for the NFL draft

Ohio State junior defensive end Sam Hubbard (6) prepares to defend against a Hawkeye offensive possession in the Ohio State-Iowa game on Nov. 4. Ohio State lost 24-55. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorDefensive end Tyquan Lewis, linebacker Chris Worley and 17 other Ohio State seniors will play their final collegiate game on Friday when the Buckeyes take on USC in the Cotton Bowl. They will be joined by a select group of redshirt sophomores, junior and redshirt juniors who will decide to forgo their remaining years of eligibility to test their mettle in the NFL draft. None of them have declared their intention of entering the NFL draft yet, though more than a couple will suit up for the final time in Scarlet and Gray on Friday.Here is a look at the situation of each underclassman who might declare early for the 2018 NFL Draft and play their final game for Ohio State on Friday. Also, read about which of Ohio State’s offensive players might declare early for the draft.Redshirt junior defensive end Sam HubbardWhy he would leave early: A standout on Ohio State’s loaded defensive line, Hubbard has racked up 38 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2017 and was recognized as a second-team All-Big Ten honoree for his production. This follows last season’s eight tackles for loss and 3.5-sack year. Hubbard offers a blend of size (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) and athleticism that would be intriguing for NFL teams in the early rounds of the draft. He made key plays against the run and in pass rush situations, making his presence felt despite splitting reps with three other starting defensive ends. Hubbard also graduated with a degree in finance on Sunday.Why he wouldn’t leave early: With defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes graduating, Hubbard would have an opportunity for increased playing time with Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young fighting for reps. He could potentially further increase his production and push his draft stock even higher with the greater focus on him.Prediction: Hubbard leaves for the NFL draft. There is not much left for him to prove. Even if he came back, Hubbard would have to fight for snaps with Young, Bosa and Cooper. Bosa, a likely early first-round draft pick, will garner the majority of the attention on the defensive line. Hubbard’s physical maturation and increased production make him a highly regarded NFL prospect. Plus, he already has his degree.Ohio State junior linebacker Jerome Baker (17) takes down a Badger in the third quarter of the B1G Championship game against Wisconsin on Dec. 2 in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ohio State won 27-21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorJunior linebacker Jerome BakerWhy he would leave early: Last year, Baker seemed to be a no-doubt early entrant in the NFL draft when it became time to declare. The 2016 honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree made big plays, including interceptions against Oklahoma and Michigan, and finished with 83 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. Though he has had a shaky second season as a starter, he has showed off high-level athleticism that will translate to the NFL. If he returns for a third year as starter for Ohio State, he might be on his third linebackers coach in as many years, since Bill Davis’ contract ends after this season, which would throw further instability into his rocky career.Why he wouldn’t leave early: At times, Baker has looked like the weakest link in Ohio State’s defense, a statement that would have seemed incredulous a year ago. But especially early in this season, he struggled covering play-action passes, matching up with tight ends and getting out of position. Another year of development at Ohio State would allow him to continue to progress in harnessing his athleticism into making plays rather than relying on it to get himself out of bad positions. Prediction: Baker declares early for the NFL draft. Despite a disappointing season during which he failed to live up to sky-high expectations, Baker possesses loads of talent and athleticism that would intrigue teams. He might not be a top-three round pick like he was believed to be when he entered the year, but he would be drafted by a team enamored by his potential.Ohio State redshirt junior linebacker Dante Booker intercepts a pass in the second quarter of the Buckeyes game against Rutgers on Sept. 30. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorRedshirt junior linebacker Dante BookerWhy he would leave early: Booker has endured a turbulent past two seasons at Ohio State. After earning a starting spot in 2016, he injured his knee in the first game of the season that ended his campaign. This season, he started six games and played nine, but also battled injuries and did not end the season as a starter. He has 31 tackles, five for a loss and two sacks this year. If he returns for his redshirt senior season, Booker would have to battle with Tuf Borland, Baron Browning and Malik Harrison for starting spots if he were to return. The imposing 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker would have a shot at fighting his way onto a roster, but he would likely go undrafted.Why he wouldn’t leave early: Booker has not yet done much to prove he could make an NFL roster. He has started just seven games in college and has dealt with multiple injury issues. Also, once Booker lost his starting spot due to an injury this season, he could not reclaim it once he regained his health. Though he would have to contend with the aforementioned trio of linebackers for a starting spot, Booker could finally match his physical makeup with on-field production, which he has yet to do.Prediction: Booker returns for a final year at Ohio State. An early entree into the NFL draft would seem illogical for someone who has dealt with both injury and production issues. Having the physical embodiment of a professional linebacker matters. But if he cannot hold a starting spot or stay healthy in college, NFL teams would likely have difficulty trusting him. Another season at Ohio State could alleviate those concerns. Junior corner back Denzel Ward (12) tackles Taivon Jacobs of Maryland during the Ohio State game on Oct. 7 at Ohio Stadium. Ward was ejected immediately after for targeting. Credit: Sheridan Hendrix | Oller ReporterJunior cornerback Denzel WardWhy he would leave early: With cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore leaving early for the 2017 NFL Draft, Ward was forced into a high-pressure role as the most experienced cornerback remaining on Ohio State’s roster. He thrived as a lockdown cornerback, picking off two passes and breaking up 15 passes as a junior. There is not much more for him to prove at the collegiate level. A first-team All-American, Ward would likely be another first-round cornerback from Ohio State.Why he wouldn’t leave early: An undersized cornerback at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds, Ward could learn to further his abilities facing larger wideouts and tight ends. He could also act as a mentor for a group of cornerbacks that have struggled. He and former five-star prospect Jeffrey Okudah could make for an interesting potential starting duo. Prediction: Ward leaves early for the NFL draft. What more does he have to prove in college? A likely first-round pick who will be guaranteed millions of dollars, Ward is ready for the next step. He will always battle height issues, but has maximized his potential thus far in his football career.Ohio State redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones patrols the sideline prior to the Buckeyes’ 62-14 win against Maryland on Oct. 7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorRedshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dre’Mont JonesWhy he would leave early: Jones entered the year and, when healthy, lived up to his billing as a speedy, undersized defensive tackle. The former defensive end picked up 20 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack. Though his limited production would likely cap his draft stock, he stood out this season while playing on a line filled with future NFL players. His speed and explosiveness would translate to the NFL and he already has two seasons of starting experience at the collegiate level. Why he wouldn’t leave early: Sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa hinted Jones might return to school to improve his pass rush numbers and prove he could be an asset in the NFL with an improved interior pass rush. His explosiveness has not translated into consistent sacks. A third season as a starter at Ohio State would allow NFL teams to see a part of his game that exists, but has not been consistent. Also, with Lewis, Holmes and, possibly, Hubbard leaving for the NFL, Jones would have a larger spotlight.Prediction: Jones returns for a fourth year at Ohio State. Many people believed Jones would make a leap into the upper echelon of collegiate defensive tackles this season. Though he had a productive year, he battled a freak injury suffered due to scraping his leg on a locker and had just five tackle for loss. His athleticism allows for a higher ceiling which he has yet to reach.Ohio State sophomore cornerback Kendall Sheffield (8) waits to defend a UNLV play in the third quarter of the Ohio State- UNLV game on Sep. 23. Ohio State won 54- 21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorRedshirt sophomore cornerback Kendall SheffieldWhy he would leave early: At the beginning of the season, Sheffield struggled in coverage. In the opening week against Indiana, he looked like a sieve as quarterback Richard Lagow trounced the Ohio State defensive backfield, including Sheffield. But as the year progressed, so do Sheffield. A former five-star prospect and Alabama transfer, Sheffield has the physical traits NFL teams desire. Though he would not be an early pick in the NFL draft, his in-season improvement would interest teams.Why he wouldn’t leave early: Given his physical gifts, Sheffield has a high ceiling that he has not come close to maximizing. Ohio State has a rich recent history of turning out first-round cornerbacks. If he were to enter the draft after the Cotton Bowl, Sheffield would not be a first rounder. But after a second year as a starter, he would have a chance to develop into Ohio State’s next lockdown cornerback.Prediction: Sheffield heads back to school for his fourth year of collegiate football and second at Ohio State. He could be on his week-to-week improvement being enough to prove to NFL teams that he deserves a chance or return and make further additions to his game. With Ward likely heading to the NFL, Sheffield’s opportunities at Ohio State would be plentiful.Ohio State redshirt sophomore cornerback Damon Arnette (3) waits to defend against a Penn State offensive drive in the second quarter in the game against Penn State on Oct. 28. Ohio State won 39-38. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorRedshirt sophomore cornerback Damon ArnetteWhy he would leave early: Arnette lacks the physical ceiling of Sheffield and the innate sense of swatting passes that Ward possesses. But he has shown the versatility to move between the outside to slot cornerback positions. He is willing to rough up wide receivers near the line of scrimmage. NFL teams would notice his lack of physical gifts, but would also appreciate his physicality.Why he wouldn’t leave early: The Buckeyes hopes Arnette would step into a larger role last season and this season, but he failed to become the next Ohio State cornerback success story. With two more years of eligibility, he has years to make the necessary improvements needed to make him an NFL cornerback, which he likely is not right now.Prediction: Arnette returns to Ohio State for his fourth year in college. He would likely go undrafted and struggle to make an NFL roster. With added experience, Arnette could move from a liability in coverage to a strength. Ohio State will be relying on him to take the next step against next year, as it was this season. read more