Ohio State is bidding a fond farewell to defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who announced on Monday that he was entering the 2013 NFL Draft. It wasn't exactly a tough decision for Hankins, who's widely regarded as a upper-level first-round pick. He's 6'3", 322 pounds and devastatingly quick and strong. Yeah, he's got a bit of a spare tire, but it's obviously not stopping him from dominating on the line—and the NFL has plenty of nose tackles who carry even more weight than that and still excel.
Here's more from the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Hankins' decision:
The junior defensive lineman, a first-team All-Big Ten choice, announced Monday, to no one's surprise, that he will give up his senior season at Ohio State and enter the NFL Draft. Hankins, a 6-foot-3, 322-pounder with quick feet, seems to be a lock as a first-round pick and has a good chance to go among the first 15 picks.
Of course, this is not quite as good news for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes try to reload for a national championship run in 2013. Urban Meyer's crew went undefeated in Meyer's first season at the helm in Columbus, and it took the hammer of the NCAA in the wake of Jim Tressel's transgressions to keep Ohio State out of the national championship picture.
The sanctions are gone and Ohio State can contend for the title next season, of course, but now the road is tougher.
The bad news for Ohio State is now the defensive line has lost all four of its starters from a 2012 defense that ranked 13th nationally in rush defense. The good news is that aside from maybe running back, there wasn't a deeper position on the entire OSU roster than defensive line, and Ohio State frequently rotated in players to keep legs fresh for 60 minutes.
That depth isn't going to be quite as prominent in 2013—not unless recruits like DT Joey Bosa can match the remarkable game-readiness that the 2012 true freshmen on the line exhibited for Ohio State. However, Meyer's affinity for utilizing depth this season will pay off in 2013, and it will minimize the sting of losing a great tackle like Hankins.
Here are the starting lineups along the line for 2012 and 2013:
DE: John Simon
NT: Johnathan Hankins
DT: Garrett Goebel
DE: Nathan Williams
DE: Noel Spence
NT: Joel Hale
DT: Adolphus Washington
DE: J.T. Moore
Rising sophomore Tommy Schutt is also heavily in the mix at defensive tackle, especially if Washington still has the versatility to move to the edge, and Michael Bennett will also likely see heavy playing time at end in 2013. Steve Miller also backed up Simon in 2012 and did a fine job, though his ceiling is lower than Spence's.
In other words, there's still quality depth there on Ohio State's defensive line, even without a game-changer like Johnathan Hankins coming back. Hale is going to have to make a leap in his quality of play, of course—and if he doesn't, Urban Meyer won't hesitate to find someone who can be a difference-maker at the one-technique where Hankins dominated last season.
One name to keep on the radar at NT if Hale doesn't fit the bill is Chris Carter (no relation to Ohio State alum and NFL great Cris Carter). Carter didn't get onto the field in 2012, but his potential is through the roof, especially if he can continue getting into playing shape after coming to Ohio State near 400 pounds. If anyone's got Hankins' athleticism at nose, it's Carter. He just might not be game-ready yet.
At the very least, Ohio State's defensive line is still going to be a fearsome foursome in this coming season, and opponents expecting an easier time rushing the ball are in for an unpleasant surprise come next September.
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