After two years without an NFL Draft pick, Illinois’ draft drought is over.
Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illini selected in the draft since 2013 when the Oakland Raiders picked him with the No. 44 pick Friday.
Since 1971, only four drafts have not featured an Illinois product, with two coming in succession in each of the past two years (1972, 2006, 2014, 2015). This recent drought snapped a string of successful drafts for the Illini, which featured a first-round pick in four of five drafts from 2008 to 2012.
The 2013 draft featured four Illinois players selected: Hugh Thornton (third round), Akeem Spence (fourth round), Terry Hawthorne (fifth round) and Michael Buchanan (seventh round).
Ward is the highest Illini picked since the 2012 draft, when Illinois saw four players taken in the first two rounds: Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Jenkins in the first, Jeff Allen and Tavon Wilson in the second.
Ward spent the past two seasons at Illinois after transferring in from junior college. In 25 games, he recorded 104 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.