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Commentary: Johnathan Hankins should receive top consideration among defensive linemen

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

No Ohio State football players were selected in the first round of last year’s draft, but thanks to Johnathan Hankins, the Buckeyes should be represented on the draft’s first day this time around.

The junior defensive tackle made an unsurprising decision when he announced Monday he would bypass his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL draft. Hankins, a second-team Associated Press All-American this season, is very likely to be a first-round draft pick.

He could even be the first top-10 draft pick from OSU since former defensive lineman Vernon Gholston was selected with the No. 6 overall pick in 2008.

Hankins has the measurables and skill set that NFL teams look for in a nose tackle. At a listed weight of 322 pounds, Hankins is a massive man, and with that size comes great strength and power. He supplements that girth with a rare level of quickness and athleticism for a man of his size, which truly makes him a special player and NFL prospect.

In order to contain his size and explosive combination of strength and quickness, opposing offensive lines consistently double-teamed Hankins throughout his OSU career.

In two full seasons as a starter, Hankins was very productive, picking up 122 tackles and 15 tackles for loss, but much of his impact doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He is not a great pass-rusher, but by consistently occupying blockers, he frees up lanes for his teammates to make plays.

By entering the draft, Hankins enters a class that is highly competitive among defensive tackle prospects. Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Alabama’s Jesse Williams and Georgia’s John Jenkins are all massive but athletic nose tackles like Hankins, and all should be first-round picks. Even with all of that competition to be among the draft’s top picks, it would come as a big surprise if Hankins falls outside of the top 20.

Defensive tackles with Hankins’ size, athleticism, ability to impact plays and collegiate productivity don’t come along in every draft class. With the potential to be a top-10 draft choice, it is hard to blame him for choosing to make the jump to the next level. He should have the opportunity to play immediately, and he will get paid for it.

By leaving one season early for the NFL, Hankins sacrificed the opportunity to be part of a Buckeyes team expected to make a national championship run in 2013. On the other side of the equation, the Buckeyes lose one of their best defensive players, and will have no returning starters on the defensive line next season.

Even with Hankins’ early exit and the graduations of 2012 starters John Simon, Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel, the Buckeyes should still have a strong defensive line next season. The Buckeyes have done a great job recruiting defensive linemen over the past few years, including sophomore Michael Bennett and freshmen Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt, all of whom played well in limited action this season, and will likely form the Buckeyes’ starting front four next year.

Of the four departing linemen, Hankins will be the toughest to replace, as the Buckeyes do not have another player on the roster with Hankins’ combination of size and explosive athleticism. But even with his loss, the Buckeyes have enough talent on defense to be a championship-caliber team in 2013.

Hankins has the versatility to excel at the next level in the middle of a three-man defensive front or as one of two defensive tackles in a four-man front. That makes him an attractive option for any team in need of a defensive tackle. Potential teams who could draft Hankins include the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings.

The 2013 NFL draft begins April 25. If not the first defensive tackle selected, Hankins should at least be among the top two or three.

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