For the first time in three years, Illinois was represented at the NFL draft. Fittingly, it was an athletic defensive lineman who came off the board.

Jihad Ward was picked No. 44 overall by the Oakland Raiders, who have made it a habit of drafting Illini players.

Ward was the highest drafted Illini player since 2012.

Ward possesses superior size and strength for a defensive end. At 6-5, 296 pounds, Ward might not play defensive end at the next level. He played both tackle and end at Illinois, where he earned All-B1G honorable mention honors in his two seasons in Champaign. He finished his career with 104 tackles, 12 of which were for a loss.

The former JUCO transfer is still considered raw as a pass-rusher. His versatility made him an attractive early-round prospect, and some even believed he could go in the first round.

Ward might not have earned the first-round selection he was hoping for, but Illinois’ first draft pick since 2013 will have a chance to maximize his upside in the right system.