Big Ten Football: Should These 7 Stars Declare Early for 2013 NFL Draft?

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIDecember 17, 2012

Big Ten Football: Should These 7 Stars Declare Early for 2013 NFL Draft?

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    Now that the 2012 college football regular season is in the books and the lengthly slate of bowl games is underway, numerous Big Ten Conference fans across the country are wondering whether or not some of the league's brightest stars will be returning for their senior seasons or bolting for the 2013 NFL draft.

    Some of the hottest commodities are defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and William Gholston along with offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.

    Should the aforementioned players declare for the draft, or would it be more beneficial for them to play one more season for their respective schools? Click ahead to find out!

Johnathan Hankins, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State Buckeyes

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    The only prospect in this slide show that has already declared for the 2013 NFL draft is Ohio State Buckeyes junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

    The 6'3", 335-pounder has been a dominant run-stopper with the Buckeyes and has made 25 consecutive starts. 

    Hankins has never been known as a pass rusher, but the Dearborn Heights, Michigan native has quick feet, the ability to shred blocks, and he attracts a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines. This makes his 122 tackles over the past two seasons an impressive statistic.

    There is nothing more Hankins can do at the college level, so he is making a wise decision taking his talents to the professional ranks.'s NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., Hankins is the No. 17 overall prospect, and in the site's latest mock draft he is projected to be selected by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 5 pick.

    Final Verdict: Declare

Chris Borland, Middle Linebacker, Wisconsin Badgers

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    There are not too many people outside of Big Ten country who know about Wisconsin Badgers middle linebacker Chris Borland. But, the Kettering, Ohio product has been an impact player from the day he arrived in Madison.

    Borland has 34 career starts under his belt, and earned first team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches this season.

    There are not too many middle linebackers in the Big Ten with instincts like Borland, and the 5'11", 250-pounder has racked up 241 tackles over the past two seasons with the Badgers.

    Borland might seem a bit undersized on paper, but he has more than enough strength and speed to make up for what he lacks in size. According to's Scouts inc., Borland runs the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds.

    One of the main areas Borland can improve on is his ability to drop into coverage, in addition to his tackling in the open field. Borland would benefit from an extra season at Wisconsin.

    Final Verdict: Return 

William Gholston, Defensive End, Michigan State Spartans

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    The Michigan State Spartans may be sending another outstanding defensive lineman to the NFL draft this season if junior defensive end William Gholston opts to bolt from East Lansing to the professional level.

    Gholston has great size, quickness and has the potential to be a major headache for offensive tackles at the next level.

    However, the scouts have some concerns about Gholston's motor, which is something the Detroit Southeastern High School alum could disprove by returning for his senior season and dominating opposing offensive linemen.

    There is no reason for someone with Gholston's athleticism and size to be taken in the middle rounds of the draft, which is why Scouts inc.'s No. 69 overall prospect should come back for one more year with the Spartans.

    Do not be surprised if Gholston opts to declare for the draft, though.

    Final Verdict: Return

Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan Wolverines

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    The Michigan Wolverines have sent several offensive linemen to the NFL draft over the years, and redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Jake Long and become an everyday starter in the pros.

    The 6'7", 302-pounder has great size and quickness, which will enable him to handle the much quicker defensive ends he will see week in and week out in the NFL.

    Lewan is an exceptional run and pass blocker and has started 34 games for the Wolverines, but given his past history of injuries there is no reason for the Scottsdale, Arizona native to return to Ann Arbor for his senior season.

    The only thing that might bring Lewan back for an extra year at Michigan is if sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney dominates him in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1st, which would cause his draft stock to dip. 

    Mel Kiper Jr. has Lewan ranked No. 13 overall on his latest big board, and the ESPN mock draft projects the San Diego Chargers to select him with the No. 9 pick in the draft. 

    Final Verdict: Declare

Dion Sims, Tight End, Michigan State Spartans

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    One of the most athletic tight ends in the Big Ten Conference is none other than Dion Sims, who hauled in 33 receptions for 451 yards and two touchdowns this season for the Michigan State Spartans.

    The 6'5", 276-pounder is a great mix of height, weight and agility, but he needs to improve as a blocker before he can be an every-down tight end in the NFL, which is the main reason the Detroit, Michigan product could benefit from an extra year under the tutelage of head coach Mark Dantonio.

    The second team All-Big Ten tight end could also go much higher in the draft next season, and potentially be the No. 1 player at his position with Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz out of the mix in the 2014 NFL draft.

    Final Verdict: Return

Akeem Spence, Defensive Tackle, Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Another Big Ten defensive tackle similar to Johnathan Hankins is junior run-stuffer Akeem Spence of the Illinois Fighting Illini, who is likely to enter the 2013 NFL draft, according to multiple reports

    There is no question that Spence is ready to take the next step in his football career, and the professional scouts love the 6'1", 305-pounder's quickness at the point of attack along with his physicality and aggressiveness.

    If Spence does officially declare for the draft, he will likely be a Day 2 pick and will be the No. 10 defensive tackle prospect. Given the current state of the Illinois program after a 2-10 season, no one would blame the former freshman All-American for deciding to hop off a sinking ship.

    It would be quite surprising if Spence returned for another season in Champaign, but a deep defensive tackle class could keep the Fort Walton Beach, Fla. native around for his senior year.

    Final Verdict: Declare

Le'veon Bell, Running Back, Michigan State Spartans

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    Although the NFL is driven by quarterbacks, every team needs a solid third down running back that can consistently grind out short gains in order to keep the chains moving, which is exactly what Le'veon Bell does best for the Michigan State Spartans.

    Bell is currently undecided about whether or not he will enter the draft and will wait until after the Spartans play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 29th before considering his future.

    The 6'2", 242-pounder rushed for 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns on 350 carries this season, which makes Bell the No. 2 running back and No. 60 overall prospect for the upcoming NFL draft, according to ESPN's Scouts inc. 

    Bell is one of the toughest backs in the country to bring down and will never be regarded as a speedster, which means his draft stock is unlikely to change even if he turns in an outstanding senior season in East Lansing.

    The Reynoldsburgh, Ohio native is unlikely to be a first round selection, or a starter in his first years in the NFL, but Bell will be a serviceable third down back and should declare for the draft given how weak this year's class of tailbacks is.

    Final Verdict: Declare