Johnathan Hankins may well be the first Big Ten player to go in the 2013 NFL draft, but he might not be the best Big Ten player at even his own position.
This is a confusing statement, we realize, but here's the deal: Purdue DT Kawann Short has somehow flown under the radar during his career in West Lafayette, and that is a mistake that should be corrected soon.
Short has been one of the most disruptive forces in the middle over the past few years, and his career statistics are ridiculous for a defensive tackle. We're talking about 186 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 49 tackles for loss, 15 passes defended and eight blocked kicks. All of this has come while drawing near constant double-teams, as opposing offensive lines have sought to neutralize Purdue's biggest weapon on the line over the last two years. No bother.
Eight blocked kicks is amazing. After two or three, opposing special teams coaches decide such a player is a capital-P Problem, and they scheme specifically to stop a disastrous result like that from happening.
And yet four of Short's blocked kicks happened in 2012 alone. Opposing coaches knew what he was capable of and tried to stop him, and he made it happen anyway. That is world-class disruption.
Short's legend is already starting to rise. A month ago, we couldn't find a draft site putting him in the first round (and to be fair, CBSSports.com still has Short out of the first round).
And yet Mel Kiper Jr. recently told the Journal and Courier that Short is "on the cusp" of making the first round of the NFL draft, and draft site Walter Football now has Short going with the last pick of the first round to the Atlanta Falcons.
Just about the only reason Kiper has Short out is the fact that he's got 12 defensive tackles in the first round, and Kiper says Short "could be No. 13." Thus, if Short moves up on the DT totem pole, it's reasonable to assume he could work his way into the first round, and a good Senior Bowl performance could help him do exactly that.
Here's video from Kawann Short's magnum opus, a game against Iowa where he registered four tackles for loss. It's his entire game film, so there are stretches where he's not tackling anybody (yes, the horror, we know), but you'll see not only the extensive attention paid to him with extra blockers, but his strength in splitting the double-team, his agility in tracking down ball-carriers after beating his block and even a bit of comfort in dropping off into short coverage to take away crossing routes.
Moreover, Short lines up in a variety of techniques. We see him in the 1-technique, heads-up on center James Ferentz (one of the best centers in the Big Ten this year).
Other times, he's on a guard in the 3-technique, and in some passing situations, he's out on the tackle in the 5-technique. For the NFL, Short could easily fit into a nose tackle or 4-3 DT role; he's already at 315 pounds and his wingspan is long enough that he can disrupt passing lanes.
What you'll also see on the film, of course, is Short not beating every block—and sometimes even getting blown off the ball by a double-team. That's stuff you'll notice when you watch only one defensive lineman over the course of a game. It's a war in the trenches and no defensive lineman wins every snap, especially once you get to these high levels of play.
Still, when it comes to the Senior Bowl, Short will be playing alongside other defensive linemen of similar skill, and with that support around him and an opposing offense running pretty basic blocking schemes, Short will have the opportunity to showcase his one-on-one prowess and establish himself as a first-round defensive tackle in the 2013 NFL draft.