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Ohio State's Malik Hooker intends to enter 2017 NFL Draft

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Ohio State safety Malik Hooker intends to apply for early eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.

Hooker announced his decision via social media on Monday.

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Hooker's decision represents a change of heart, as he said in November that he planned to return to OSU in 2017.

Hooker was one of college football's most impactful breakout performers in 2016, earning first-team All-America honors in his first year as a starter for the Buckeyes. After spending most of last year in a special-teams role, the third-year sophomore played like a more experienced veteran in 2016, intercepting a Big Ten-high seven passes, three of which he returned for touchdowns. NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, who attended Ohio State's Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, was especially impressed with the range Hooker displayed in intercepting Deshaun Watson. He also made one of the biggest plays in Ohio State's crucial 30-27 win over rival Michigan, a 16-yard interception return for OSU's first touchdown.

College underclassmen face a Jan. 16 deadline to apply for early draft eligibility.

Hooker's lack of experience is in part due to the quality of defensive back talent OSU had last year. Both 2015 OSU safeties, Vonn Bell (Saints second-round pick) and Tyvis Powell (Seahawks undrafted rookie) are now in the NFL. Hooker made a strong early impression for the Buckeyes, however, and by October, an NFL scout had already seen enough of Hooker (6-feet-2, 205 pounds) to compare him to former NFL All-Pro Ed Reed. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah believes Hooker has the best ball skills of any defensive back in the college game, and supports the Reed comparison.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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