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First-round recap: Ohio State sends three defensive backs to the draft

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OSU cornerbacks redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore (2) and redshirt junior Gareon Conley (8) embrace while redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) looks on following the Buckeyes’ 31-0 loss against Clemson in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

Ohio State did not break any records in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, but the Buckeyes still finished tied with LSU for the second-most players selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, trailing only Alabama.

And coming off a season where the Buckeyes’ secondary proved to be as shutdown as any defensive unit in the college football, it is not surprising that all their first-round picks came out of the defensive backfield.

OSU sent both their starting cornerbacks — Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley — as well as safety Malik Hooker to NFL teams on the first day of the draft, making the Buckeyes the first team to send four defensive backs to the professional level in the first round of the draft over a two-year span.

By sending three defensive backs in the first round of a single draft, they joined the 2002 Miami Hurricanes as the only other school to ever accomplish the feat.

The Buckeyes’ defense allowed the seventh-fewest passing yards per game as opponents averaged just 172.2 yards through the air. The secondary also proved to be quite the group of ball hawks as they finished fourth among Division I teams with 21 interceptions and led all teams with seven returned for a score, breaking a school record.

The first member of that secondary taken in the draft was Lattimore, who was selected 11th overall by the New Orleans Saints.

Lattimore joins former OSU safety Vonn Bell — who was drafted 61st overall in last year’s draft — in the Saints’ secondary in a unit that could use some improving. New Orleans allowed more passing yards than any other team in the NFL last season (4,380).

It was a surprise to many to see Lattimore drop as far as 11th with ESPN’s Todd McShay and Louis Riddick believing that Lattimore would go fifth or sixth, respectively, in the draft, according to their final mock drafts.

Following Lattimore was Hooker, who was selected 15th overall by the Indianapolis Colts.

Hooker finished tied for third among all Division I players with seven interceptions, and led the nation with three interceptions returned for a touchdown. His ability to pick off passes will be valued by a Colts team that finished tied for second-to-last with only eight interceptions last season. That defense was constantly picked apart by opposing passing attacks as they gave up the sixth-most passing yards in the league (4,200) and the 10th-most passing touchdowns.

Though Conley had originally been predicted to be drafted on Thursday, an allegation of rape reported on Tuesday brought into question whether or not he would be drafted at all. As of draft day, Conley has not been charged of any crime and the investigation is still considered ongoing.

However, the ongoing investigation did not stop the Oakland Raiders from selecting OSU’s second cornerback with the 24th overall pick in the draft.

Heading into the draft, the Raiders were believed to be looking for a cornerback after a year where they allowed the ninth-most passing yards (4,120) and the 10th-most passing touchdowns (27).

With the trio of defensive backs now off the board, the Buckeyes will still be looking to send a pair of players on Friday with H-back Curtis Samuel and linebacker Raekwon McMillan. After those two players are taken off the board, OSU still has Rimington Award winning-center Pat Elflein, who is projected to go in the third round of the draft.

Wideout Noah Brown would likely be the next player to go, as he is projected to go in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. The team also has wide receiver Dontre Wilson and punter Cameron Johnston, a pair of players expected to be late-round draft picks or become free agents.

The draft continues with the second and third round on Friday, starting at 7 p.m., and with Rounds 4 through 7 continuing on Saturday, starting at noon.

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