Hankins leaves big void.

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Last updated: 12/10/2012 8:55 PM

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Football
Thinking Out Loud: Big Hank Leaves Big Void
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer may have called John Simon the ‘heart and soul’ of his 2012 Buckeyes, but it’s Johnathan Hankins who has anchored Ohio State’s defensive line for the past two seasons.

Simon led the Big Ten in sacks this year as a senior captain. He was voted the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and has a legitimate chance to be Ohio State’s team MVP, despite the fact he missed his Senior Day against Michigan.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins

There is no questioning what Simon meant to the Buckeyes, both on and off the field, but there is also little doubt that Hankins was the best player on the OSU defense for two years running.

That notion will likely be validated next April, when Hankins comes off the board in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. His combination of size and speed made him almost unblockable one on one, but it was Big Hank’s determination to be great that allowed him to make plays that 320-pound guys simply aren’t supposed to make.

How many times did we see him make a tackle outside the hash marks or drag a running back down from behind before he could break free in the second level? This wasn’t just a guy who trotted out there on fourth-and-1 to stuff the run up the middle.

Hankins worked hard to become a guy who could play 60 snaps a game on defense, which is not something he was capable of when he arrived at Ohio State back in 2010. It was easy to see why Jim Tressel and Jim Heacock liked him so much. Hankins was a gentle giant, at least off the field.

He giggled and smiled sheepishly when talking about himself and his own abilities, but they were obvious from the moment he stepped on campus. There was just something different about him. Guys his size weren’t supposed to explode off the line the way No. 52 did. They weren’t supposed to be in the backfield before the offensive lineman even got out of his stance.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Jim Davidson
Johnathan Hankins

They weren’t supposed to chase down running backs on toss plays to the outside. Guys like Hankins were supposed to get low and take up space so other guys could run around and make plays.

But that’s not who Hankins is, although he did a lot of that too.

By the time Hankins was a sophomore at Ohio State, opposing teams had decided their best chance to beat the Buckeyes was to double-team their massive defensive tackle in the trenches.

They would combo block him, undercut him, and sometimes even resort to eye-gauging, as was absolutely the case with Michigan State offensive lineman Jack Allen earlier this year.

Time To Go

That alone should be reason enough for Hankins to leave college football in his rearview mirror. Running backs certainly seem to have the shortest shelf-life of any position in football, but defensive tackles like Hankins certainly take a beating down in the trenches.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins

He could have come back for his senior year and a chance to win a national championship. I think he wanted to. Hearing him talk about the way Wisconsin ruined Ohio State’s undefeated season – and their chance to play for the BCS championship – his freshman year, you could just sense how badly he wanted another opportunity.

Even with the bowl ban, Hankins certainly cemented his place in Ohio State history. He didn’t set any records or win any major awards that will hang on the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but Hankins will leave Columbus as one of the key players on just the sixth undefeated team in school history.

And it was absolutely his time to go.

Hankins is a virtual lock to be a first-round pick, whether that means top 5 or top 15 is almost irrelevant when making this kind of a decision. If Hankins has a great showing at the NFL Combine in February, he is going to be in the conversation for every team that needs a defensive tackle.

In other words, all of them.

While 320-pound defensive tackles aren’t nearly as hard to come by in the NFL as they are in college football, ones that move like Hankins don’t come around very often. The Kansas City Chiefs used the 11th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to select Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

The Philadelphia Eagles followed up with Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox at 12 and the St. Louis Rams snagged LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the 14th pick in the draft.

In all, there were 14 defensive linemen taken in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft, including Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy and Penn State’s Devon Still.

The 2011 NFL Draft saw a defensive lineman – Alabama’s Marcell Dareus – go No. 3 overall to the Buffalo Bills, and Detroit quickly used the 13th pick in the draft to take Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

That was one year after the Lions used the second pick in the draft to grab Nebraska’s bad boy Ndamukong Suh. Tampa Bay took Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with the very next pick, and Jacksonville used the 10th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft on Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.

The list goes on and on. Green Bay used a top 10 pick on B.J. Raji in 2009 and five of the top eight picks in the 2008 draft were defensive linemen. That included LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.

All of that to illustrate the fact that teams are quick to fall in love with big, mobile defensive tackles who can make plays just as easily as they take on double-teams. That doesn’t guarantee Hankins a spot in the top 10 of next year’s draft, but the possibility alone is incredible.

Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins

Here’s a kid who was a 3-star prospect out of Detroit who had to fight for offers from Michigan State and Michigan, a team he rooted for growing up. The Buckeyes saw something in him that made them want to take a chance on a 350-pound kid from Detroit, and Heacock fell in love with him during his visit to Columbus back in 2009.

“He came here on his official visit, and while other guys were taking tours of the campus, he just wanted to watch our defensive line videos,” Heacock once said.

“I learned to like him more and more each time I met him. He’s a fun-loving guy, he’s an intense guy and he has an intense passion for the game.”

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