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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Big Ten history could be made tonight, and not the good kind of history.
The National Football League's annual draft kicks off its first of three days of action tonight, and no Big Ten player is expected to be selected in the draft's first round for the first time since 1953. That thought seemed unfathomable mere months ago, when Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins announced his intentions to forego his senior season to enter the draft.
Projected to be a first round selection for nearly a year, Hankins has slid down draft boards amid questions about his conditioning and a drop in production from his sophomore to junior season. The consensus seems to be that Hankins will be selected in Friday's second round, although ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. currently projects him to be a third round pick.
"He wasn't as dominant this year as he was two years ago, but he's got a lot of ability," Kiper said.
Joining Hankins in the second or third round from Ohio State could be Reid Fragel. But unlike Hankins, whose stock is falling, Fragel is considered to be a riser in this year's draft.
A tight end for his first three seasons in Columbus, Fragel moved to the Buckeyes' offensive line upon the arrival of head coach Urban Meyer in 2012. The move paid dividends for both Ohio State and Fragel, who emerged as a more than dependable right tackle, and is now projected to be picked in between the draft's third and fifth rounds.
Also currently slotted as a mid-round pick is former Buckeyes defensive end John Simon. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has dealt with a shoulder injury since Ohio State's season ended in November, and it remains unclear whether he'll play defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level.
Kiper compared Simon's status as a 'tweener' to that of OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who spent 16 years in the NFL playing at various spots on defenses for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Kansas City Chiefs.
"I like the way he plays the game. He's got a lot of versatility. He plays with energy," Kiper said. "Energy, kind of like the old Mike Vrabel who came out of Ohio State, had a nice career in NFL. Play down end, gives you some scheme versatility. Great kid. Tremendously hard worker, great passion for the game."
Hankins, Fragel, and Simon are the only former Buckeyes perceived to be locks to be drafted this weekend, although as many as six other players from Ohio State's undefeated 2012 team could hear their names called.
Like Simon, Nathan Williams is being viewed as a potential outside linebacker-defensive end hybrid, although he must prove that a surgically repaired knee that kept him out of all but one game of the 2011 season can hold up at the pro level. Questions about Williams' agility also persist, after he ran the 40-yard dash at February's NFL combine in 4.88 seconds. He is currently projected to be a mid-late round pick.
A pair of Dr. Krop high school teammates could also find themselves selected this weekend in linebacker Etienne Sabino and cornerback Travis Howard. Both former Buckeyes are projected to be selected between the draft's fifth and seventh rounds, and OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs believes that a team could be getting a steal in Howard.
"He has first-round talent," Coombs said of Howard. "Now, he won't be drafted that high but he's a better player than a lot of guys around the combine. Travis is going to play a lot of football."
Another intriguing Ohio State prospect comes in the form of Jake Stoneburner. A tight end for three seasons before moving to wide receiver at the start of his senior year, Stoneburner moved back to tight end in preparation for the draft, where he performed admirably at the scouting combine. The Dublin, Ohio native will never be your prototypical tight end at the next level and didn't post numbers that scream out that he's an NFL prospect, but the talent is certainly there, as seen evident by his projection as a late round pick.
While it's unclear what position he'll play at the professional level, Zach Boren has the potential to be drafted by a team looking for immediate special teams help this weekend. Ohio State's fullback-turned-linebacker has been working out primarily as a fullback in the months leading up to the draft, and could be picked in the sixth or seventh round by a team looking for a player with the versatility to help in multiple facets of the game.
Other former Ohio State players who could be selected this weekend, although will more likely sign with teams as undrafted free agents, include safety Orhian Johnson and defensive lineman Garrett Goebel.
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