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2017 NFL draft: 9 players with the toughest decision to make

We’re starting to find out which college football players will go pro, but these ones have a hard choice to make.

Duke v Notre Dame Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Jan. 16 deadline to enter the 2017 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and we’re already starting to get some indication on who is going pro.

Running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU, D’Onta Foreman of Texas, and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford have already announced they’ll be in the NFL next year. Clemson will lose a group of players in quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, and running back Wayne Gallman. Even a less-acclaimed player like Akron wide receiver Jerome Lane has announced he’s going pro.

In this year’s draft, 96 juniors or redshirt sophomores were granted special eligibility by the NFL to enter the draft, so we’re just getting started on which players will be leaving college football. The following players face the toughest decision on whether to enter.

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

After a red hot start to the season, Kizer faded some as the season progressed and that should cast some doubt as to whether or not he should enter the draft. Kizer submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board last month, and they’ll tell him if he’s being considered for the first round, the second round, or if he should return to school. Kizer has the skill to be the first overall pick in the draft, it just might not be in 2017.

Kizer’s decision could lead to a domino effect of other underclassmen quarterbacks. If he goes back for another season, players like Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech or Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State could slide up in the draft.

Ohio State defensive backs

Ohio State had 12 players go in the 2016 NFL draft, and that number could be high again next year if a number of underclassmen go pro. That includes a trio of talented defensive backs.

The headliner of the bunch is safety Malik Hooker. A First Team All-American who had 67 tackles and six interceptions, Hooker has said he plans on going back to Ohio State, but that could change if Ohio State wins a national title and he continues playing at a high level. If Hooker goes pro, he should challenge Jamal Adams of LSU as being the second safety off the board after Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. If he returns to Ohio State, he can become more consistent and push his way into the top 10. Don’t forget, Hooker is in his first season as a starter, and he only played two years of high school football.

Buckeyes cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore also face difficult decisions. Conley goes into the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson on Dec. 31 with three interceptions and eight pass breakups while Lattimore has nine pass breakups and four interceptions. Both are athletic cornerbacks with good instincts and they have size at 6’1 each. Conley, a junior, is more likely to enter than Lattimore, a redshirt sophomore.

Lattimore may be the more talented of the two, however. There’s also some precedent for Ohio State corners leaving after their redshirt sophomore seasons. Eli Apple did it last year and became a first-round pick.

Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State

It’s not just secondary players on Ohio State who will be grappling with their futures in the coming weeks. Lewis has quietly led the Buckeyes in sacks the last two seasons. At 6’4 and 266 pounds, Lewis has the look of a natural 4-3 end. Still, he’s not wildly regarded as top-50 pick and could improve his stock with another year in Columbus.

Plenty of other Buckeyes will be considering the draft, including tight end Marcus Baugh, defensive ends Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, and h-back Curtis Samuel.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

At one time, Chubb was talked about in the same breath as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Chubb has been surpassed, though, following a knee injury last season where he tore ligaments and had other minor injuries this season. Running backs seem to have a shorter window to make money in the NFL, but Chubb could really bolster his stock by staying healthy at Georgia for another season while his peers go pro.

Chubb’s teammate, Sony Michel, should also be considering the NFL. Also a junior, he averages more than 5.5 yards per carry in his career and is a good receiver out of the backfield.

T.J. Watt, DE/OLB, Wisconsin

For some reason Watt doesn’t get discussed a lot in draft circles, but maybe he should. J.J. Watt’s younger brother is a good player in his own right, and has 14.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks this season. Watt can not only get after the quarterback, but he can do this type of thing, as well:

Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Southern California

These two appear to be a package deal.

“If Adoree’ comes back, I’m for sure coming back, and we’re going to win the natty,” Smith-Schuster told reporters last month.

Jackson, a junior, gets used all over the field and is an ace special teams reporter. But his NFL position is cornerback, where he was inconsistent early in the season. Jackson closed the season strong, including a good game against Notre Dame. Smith-Schuster, a junior wide receiver, has also had consistency issues.