December 3, 2012

Hankins a candidate to declare for draft

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Could some big dollars be in Big Hank's future? Most NFL Draft analysts seem to think so.

Johnathan Hankins has been on most NFL teams' radars since his breakout sophomore season, and seems to have maintained his status as a sure-fire first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft through his junior year. After recording 67 tackles- 11 for a loss- and three sacks in 2011, the Ohio State defensive tackle ranked fifth on the Buckeyes in tackles this season with 55, four of which came for a loss, and one that was a sack.

Despite the dip in his season stat line, NFL scouts and analysts alike have noticed the extra attention that opposing offenses paid to the Detroit, Mich. native, which helped pave the way for John Simon to lead the Big Ten in sacks with nine, and for linebacker Ryan Shazier to record a team-high 115 tackles.

ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. ranked Hankins as the No. 16 overall eligible player on his draft board, while his co-worker, Todd McShay, thinks even higher of the 6-foot-3, 322-pound space-eater, ranking him as his No. 7 overall prospect. ranks Hankins as its No. 9 overall prospect, and No. 2 defensive tackle.

Given his mammoth size and versatility that makes him a fit in any defensive scheme, it's not hard to see why Hankins makes for such an attractive prospect at the next level. The Southeastern high school product has played at both nose guard and nose tackle throughout his college career, and even started at defensive end in the Buckeyes' 31-16 win over Central Florida on Sept. 8.

Hankins feels as though he's only gotten better throughout his time at OSU, and his mere presence is one of the primary reasons why the Buckeyes ranked 14th in the country in rushing defense in 2012.

"Just taking up run blocks and double-teams. I feel like I'm much better at that," Hankins said. "Just running to the ball."

Hankins' position coach, Mike Vrabel played multiple positions in several different defensive systems throughout his 14-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Kansas City Chiefs. The OSU defensive line coach sees several qualities in his starting defensive tackle that would help to make him a successful player in the league that he won three Super Bowls in.

"A defensive lineman, normally we're not going to ask those guys to sit there and know a bunch of plays and know when this guy does this and this guy does that," Vrabel explained. "But John is at that point now where he's starting to recognize formations, he's starting to recognize plays and he knows how teams are going to try to attack us and him specifically. He's got a pretty high comfort level out there."

With one year of eligibility remaining at Ohio State, Hankins has yet to give any indication as to which way he's leaning when it comes to whether he'll return to school or enter the draft. Having appeared in mock drafts on websites since last spring, the 2012 first-team All-Big Ten selection gave mixed messages when it came to his plans for beyond his junior season.

"If I happen to leave after my junior year, it's because I'm predicted to go high. If I'm the first overall top pick, I'll probably go," Hankins said. "But if not, I'll stay with my teammates and enjoy my life at Ohio State."

A potential return to Columbus for Hankins- which would give the Buckeyes 14 returning starters if no other underclassmen declare for the draft- would likely land OSU at or near the top of most preseason polls following its perfect 12-0 season in 2012. That would put the Buckeyes in the drivers seat when it comes to next season's BCS National Championship Game, which would help Hankins accomplish what he set out to do in his college career, before he leaves for the pros.

"My goal when I first got here was to win a national championship," Hankins said. "I really want to win a national championship, so I think my senior year, we'll have a really good chance of winning it."


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