Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
There are several Ohio State Buckeyes who have a chance to be drafted in the 2011 NFL draft — but, realistically, only one can expect to be drafted in the first round tonight: Cameron Heyward.
Because of last year’s format change, the draft will take place over three days, with the first round set to begin at 8 p.m., the second and third rounds Friday and the remaining rounds Saturday.
This year’s draft takes place during a complicated legal battle between the NFL Players Association and the NFL owners, in which the future of the NFL is still in question. While the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the players Monday, the outlook for the 2011 season is still questionable.
The day before what some consider the biggest night of his life, Heyward tweeted from his Twitter account, @camheyward, about his excitement for the day.
“Day before Christmas!! only problem is there no way to sneak and see what I got for tomorrow lol,” Heyward tweeted at about 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Heyward, who is rated No. 29 on Scout Inc.’s top 32, is projected by many draft analysts to be a late first-round pick. A dominating force on the Buckeyes’ defensive line, Heyward said he would be spending the draft weekend at his house in Atlanta.
“I would like to just stay at home with my family. … I want to be around my family and friends that have helped me accomplish so much so far, and share the moment with them as well,” Heyward said March 30 after a workout.
In his latest mock draft April 6, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected that Heyward will be drafted by the New York Jets with the 30th pick in the first round. Heyward said he does not care which team drafts him.
“Whatever team that takes me, I think I can play any position you put me at,” Heyward said March 30.
The New York Jets have two former OSU players on their starting roster, wide reciever Santonio Holmes and center Nick Mangold. Mangold was drafted by the Jets in 2006, and Holmes, drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the same year, was acquired by the Jets through a trade with the Steelers in 2010.
In 2008, the Jets drafted Vernon Gholston, also a former OSU defensive end. Many consider Gholston a major bust for the Jets. The Jets took Gholston with the sixth overall pick in the draft that year. Gholston was expected by many to start, but he rarely saw much playing time outside of special teams. In his three years on the team, Gholston recorded just 42 tackles and zero sacks, after which the Jets released him at the beginning of March.
Heyward spoke about Gholston at the NFL combine.
“We’re two totally different players. Vern, they had him dropping at linebacker. … Me, I can play all over the line,” Heyward said. “We are two different players. We had the privilege of going to The Ohio State, but we’re not the same player. I’m never going to compare myself to him, and I don’t think he’ll ever do the same.”
NFL.com draft analyst Brian Baldinger projects that Heyward will not be available when the Jets’ 30th pick rolls around. Baldinger projects Heyward to be drafted by the New England Patriots with the 17th pick.
The Patriots possess two picks in the first round of this year’s draft, and NFL.com draft analysts Steve Wyche and Pat Kirwan project Heyward will be selected by the Patriots with their second pick of the first round, 28th overall.
Whichever team selects Heyward will be investing in a 6-foot-5 defensive force. Heyward has proven he has the ability to clog up the line and dominate against the run. In his four years at OSU, Heyward recorded 15.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss. Weighing in at 295 pounds, Heyward will try to continue the legacy of his late father, former NFL running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
Cameron was present on the sidelines during OSU’s Spring Game on Saturday, and said he was excited for the draft.
“(I’m) just waiting right now and continuing to work out,” he said, “and just looking to hear my name.”