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Football: Ohio State’s winners and losers of the NFL draft entry deadline

Ohio State sophomore running back Demario McCall (30) runs in a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Rutgers on Sep. 30. Ohio State won 56-0. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

In the past, Ohio State has been heavily hit by underclassmen forgoing their remaining years of eligibility to leave school early for the NFL draft.

Last year, five players — Malik Hooker, Raekwon McMillan, Marshon Lattimore, Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown — departed for the NFL with a year or two of eligibility remaining. Nine Ohio State players forwent eligibility and left for the NFL after the 2015 season.

But Monday’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL came and went with only three Ohio State players — cornerback Denzel Ward, defensive end Sam Hubbard and linebacker Jerome Baker — declaring their intentions to leave early for the NFL draft.

Here is a look at who won and lost, based on the three early departures and those who could have gone but elected to stay.

Winner: Ohio State

No single player won or lost more than Ohio State won.

Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, running back Mike Weber, cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield, and wideouts Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill and Terry McLaurin decided to return to Ohio State for the 2018 season.

Jones and Campbell were highly regarded in early draft rankings and Weber’s starting spot was overtaken by freshman running back J.K. Dobbins. Often, a player who many suspect to return makes a surprise exit for the NFL. Last year, it was Brown who left early — even though he was a seventh-road pick.

This year, the Buckeyes had no surprise losses and retained some of their top players. That’s a win for what is expected to once again be a top-10 team.

Loser: Demario McCall

For the second straight year, sophomore Demario McCall was lost in the shuffle of playmakers. The athlete has looked like an explosive playmaker in his limited playing time, but as a freshman was behind Samuel, Campbell and others. McCall was expected to assume a larger role in the offense in 2017, but never found a steady position and struggled with a groin injury, eventually causing Ohio State to redshirt him.

His path to playing in 2018 seems just as difficult as it has been in years past. McCall played running back in high school and has bounced around positions in college, but spent the entire 2017 season with the H-backs. With Campbell, Hill and Weber remaining in college, McCall’s string of bad luck continued. His talent might overcome the issues of crowded position groups, but he lacks an easy path to playing time.

Winner: The next starting quarterback

Not a single early entree into the NFL draft came from Ohio State’s offense. Whether Tate Martell, Dwayne Haskins or Joe Burrow lines up at quarterback against Oregon State opening weekend, the starter will have an overflowing cast of receivers, a duo of starter-caliber running backs and an offensive line that, unexpectedly, did not lose anyone.

Having a bevy of options, most of whom have experience in big games, should be a boon to the future signal-caller.

Loser: Backup running backs (Antonio Williams, Brian Snead, Master Teague)

After Ohio State win in the Cotton Bowl, Weber sang “Carmen Ohio” with his teammates with tears falling down his cheeks. Many people expected those tears to be flowing since he knew it was his last game. That made it a surprise when he announced that he will remain a Buckeye for the 2018 season.

With Weber’s return, sophomore Antonio Williams will likely remain Ohio State’s third-string running back for the third season in a row, and incoming freshmen Brian Snead and Master Teague will have limited opportunities.

Ohio State redshirt sophomore defensive end Jonathon Cooper warms up prior to the Buckeyes’ season-opening 49-21 win over Indiana on Aug. 31 in Bloomington, Indiana. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

Winner: Jonathon Cooper

Defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes exhausted their eligibilities and Hubbard, as expected, declared early for the NFL draft. That opened up a starting spot across from Nick Bosa, which many people expect freshman defensive end Chase Young to fill. But regardless of who wins the starting position, redshirt freshman defensive end Jonathon Cooper will have an important role.

Bosa, Young and Cooper are the only defensive ends returning to Ohio State. Incoming freshmen Tyreke Smith and Alex Williams could play, but Cooper’s importance increased with Hubbard’s decision to leave for the NFL.

Losers: Backup defensive tackles

Dre’Mont Jones decided to return to Ohio State’s interior defense, limiting the chances for less-experienced defensive tackles to play. Defensive tackles Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton have played reserve roles in their first couple seasons. And given Jones’ return, they are likely to remain backups during their redshirt junior seasons. Freshmen Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage likely will once again have sparse playing time opportunities, unless either.

Winner: Jeffrey Okudah

In the past two seasons, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs has employed a three-cornerback system, rotating a trio the majority of games. With Ward deciding to leave early, a spot arises for freshman Jeffrey Okudah to step up and earn starter-level snap counts. When Ward sat out during the Cotton Bowl, Okudah stepped in and played well against USC quarterback Sam Darnold, a likely top-10 NFL draft pick. Okudah is the early favorite with Arnette and Sheffield as one of the rotating three starters.

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