The 2013 NFL Draft is fast approaching, and with it, comes the crushing disappointment of seeing top juniors and even some redshirt sophomores head off to the pros to get paid instead of sticking around for what would probably be dominant senior seasons. It's their right, of course, and nobody could blame a talented player for heading to the draft to get a real paycheck instead of playing for tuition and NCAA-approved peanuts. But for fans, seeing NFL-caliber talent leave early is still not the best.
At any rate, here are some underclassmen that we'll probably be seeing on Sundays come next fall—and some that we won't:
GONE DADDY GONE
DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Hankins has already declared for the draft, and it's a wise decision. He's a monster in the middle capable of drawing double teams at the next level, and he's got an undefeated season to show for his efforts at Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be more or less fine without him as the defensive line is still stacked, so they should be happy to see "Big Hank" get his name called early in the first round come April.
OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Lewan is still undecided about entering the NFL draft, but if he even holds his own against the monstrosity that is South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney in the upcoming Outback Bowl, he's as good as gone. Most scouts have Lewan in the top two or three of tackle prospects in the 2013 draft, so unless Clowney exposes some serious flaws in Lewan's game (which is possible), it's hard to imagine he'll come back.
DE William Gholston, Michigan State
Gholston had an underwhelming 2012 campaign after establishing himself as a powerhouse along the line as a redshirt freshman last year. For as many questions as scouts may have about Gholston's motor, though, his physical gifts are exemplary, and there's no question he's got the frame to compete at the next level. He's only a redshirt sophomore, but one gets the sense that Gholston needs more of a challenge, and he might pursue that in the draft.
RB Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
Bell led the nation in touches this season with 387 (350 rushes, 30 receptions, seven returns) and thus it's no surprise that he's in the top three for rushing yards per game. He's not a burner by any stretch at 237 pounds, but he's got surprising athleticism for his size and his catching ability makes him something of a Shonn Greene type with better hands. Greene went with the first pick in the third round in 2009. Bell might be able to go higher if he leaves early (instead of putting more miles on his legs for free).
CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Roby burst onto the scene with arguably the best season of any cornerback in the Big Ten this season, picking off a pair of passes and breaking up 19 more, leaving him second in the nation with 21 passes defended. He's only a redshirt sophomore though, and there's a sense from the coaches that he could use another year to refine his game even further. That extra year is probably the difference between a second-round pick and a high first-rounder in 2014, so expect Roby for another year.
RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Hyde is in the unenviable position of being a running back wanting to go to a league that doesn't particularly value running backs, outside an elite few. As such, without a proven track record of durability to go along with his large frame, it's unlikely that Hyde will be a terribly high draft pick this year.
Unfortunately, he'll be splitting carries even more next year, so it's unclear what else he'd be able to accomplish at the college level. If he's got team goals he wants to accomplish, though, that should be enough to get him back in Columbus.
QB Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
For as much of a leap as Taylor Martinez made as a passer in 2012, leading the Big Ten in passing efficiency to go along with his devastating speed, his throwing motion is still enough of an eyesore that NFL teams aren't likely to jump at him as a quarterback. He's got potential as a safety, a la fellow Husker QB Eric Crouch after his Heisman-winning career in Lincoln, but one would think Martinez will spend as much time as a Nebraska quarterback as possible.