|DE John Simon will go all out, all the time but scouts have several questions about his fit at the next level. (Getty Images)|
In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 23
2012 NFL Draft picks: 4 – OT Mike Adams (2nd round, 56th overall), WR DeVier Posey (3rd round, 68th overall), RB Dan Herron (6th round, 191st overall), DB Nate Ebner (6th round, 197th overall)
Since 2000, the Buckeyes have sent more players (82) to the next level via the NFL Draft than any other NCAA program, averaging almost seven draft picks each year. Ohio State also leads the Big Ten in first rounders over that stretch with 17 players selected in the top 32 picks, including four top-10 picks. Not enough draft stats on Ohio State? Here are a few more: The Buckeyes have had at least one top-75 selection in 20 of the past 22 years and are one of only three programs to boast at least three NFL Draft picks every year since 1999 (Georgia, Nebraska).
The 2012 version of the Buckeyes will have a new look with Urban Meyer and his staff taking over a somewhat maligned situation as Ohio State is coming off a six-win season a year ago. However, the Buckeyes are bursting with talent on the roster and have some analysts thinking undefeated season, even though Ohio State is banned from postseason play in 2012. The underclassmen on the roster have scouts buzzing, most notably DT Johnathan Hankins, FS C.J. Barnett and CB Bradley Roby, but the senior class does have several draftable players. A senior to keep an eye on that isn't listed in the top five below is TE-turned-OT Reid Fragel. Stuck behind Jake Stoneburner most of his career on the tight-end depth chart, he moved to right tackle this spring, bulking up to 300 pounds. The NFL loves former tight ends on the offensive line and Fragel is set to start in 2012 for the Buckeyes.
Over the past few decades, Ohio State enjoyed the most success during the Jim Tressel era (2001-10) with a national championship in 2002 and an NFL Draft-record 14 total draft picks in 2004. But regardless of the head coach, Columbus will always be a regular stop for NFL scouts in their search for next-level talent.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. DT Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 315)*
Usually wide-bodied players that weigh around 330 pounds are more run stuffers than pass rushers, but Hankins is both. He had a breakout sophomore season last year and firmly put his name on the NFL radar as a future top-10 overall pick with some more development. Hankins, who grew up near Detroit as a Wolverines fan, did the unthinkable and picked the Buckeyes over Michigan out of high school and was one of Ohio State's top reserves as a true freshman in 2010. He became a starter last season as a sophomore and flashed special ability, finishing with 67 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and three sacks, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors. Players his size usually line up primarily at nose tackle, but Ohio State uses Hankins all over the line, both inside and on the edges. He has a naturally wide frame and carries his weight surprisingly well with quick feet and natural body control. Hankins does a nice job working in the gaps and splitting double-teams while still finding ways to be productive and collapse the pocket. He does a nice job sniffing out plays with the change of direction skills and loose hips to quickly adjust his momentum. Listed at 335 pounds last season, Hankins has lost nearly 20 pounds and should be even more mobile as a junior with his relentless motor, but still needs to develop his technique and secondary moves. He is a smart, coachable football player with a good head on his shoulders, but has room to improve his read/react skills and has only one year of starting experience in college. Hankins, who was best friends in high school with Michigan State star pass rusher William Gholston, will try and be the first Buckeyes defensive tackle taken in the top 10 since Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson, who was taken first overall in 1994. And if the first overall pick next April isn't a quarterback, it's a realistic possibility that Hankins' name could be called first in the 2013 NFL Draft -- if he declares early, that is.
2. DE John Simon (6-2, 260)
Arguably the most relentless and motivated player in college football, Simon has been a force for the Ohio State defensive line since stepping foot on campus four years ago and lives in the weight and film rooms. A well-known workout warrior, he is a regular on Bruce Feldman's "Freak List" and his football dedication and work ethic prompted Meyer to use the word "Tebowish" to describe Simon. A five-star recruit out of Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Simon was mostly a reserve as a true freshman before becoming a sophomore starter in 2010. He had his best season last year as a junior with a team-best 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks, adding 53 tackles and earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. The sparkplug of the Ohio State defense, Simon played a lot of five-technique in the Buckeyes' hybrid 3-4 scheme last season, showing his versatility inside at defensive tackle and in space at linebacker. He has an overpowering, compact build (his muscles have muscles) and will rarely miss tackles with his wrist strength, but is shorter than ideal and lacks elite length. Simon scratches and crawls to the ballcarrier, doing whatever it takes and playing every series as if it were his last, but will also wear himself out at times because of his energetic attitude. He plays with urgency and the foot quickness to drop in space, but is more of a one-speed player without much explosion and lacks much body fluidity because of his rocked-up frame. Simon is more of a tweener DE/DT and lacks a natural position, which might end up being his largest weakness to scouts at the next level. He leads by example in every facet of his life and there aren't enough synonyms for "relentless" to describe him. But with several negatives on his scouting report, Simon isn't a lock to be drafted in the top 50 picks, even though every defensive line coach in the NFL will be banging the table for their team to draft Simon.
3. S C.J. Barnett (6-0, 200)*
One of the better underclassmen safeties in the nation, Barnett is an instinctive player with some cornerback skills. He quickly became one of the leaders of the Ohio State secondary last season in his first year as a starter, leading the team in tackles. Regarded as a four-star cornerback recruit, Barnett committed to the Buckeyes as a junior in high school and recorded a handful of tackles on special teams as a true freshman in Columbus. He became a starter in 2010, but a knee injury sidelined him for the season, taking a medical redshirt. Barnett returned in 2011 and regained his free safety job (13 starts), finishing with a team-best 75 tackles and two interceptions. His disciplined and consistent performance last season was one of the few bright spots on a defense that finished near the bottom of the Big Ten. Barnett is aggressive in run support and trusts his eyes, diagnosing the action and putting himself in position to succeed. He has an advanced understanding of the game with top-shelf instincts and feel for the position, but looks a bit stiff in man coverage and lacks elite footwork. Barnett has an overachieving attitude and has developed into an extra coach on the field with Meyer describing him as "a guy who just doesn't accept being average." He suffered a serious knee injury in September 2010 that required surgery so durability is a question mark that will have to be monitored. The list of former Buckeyes defensive backs currently in the NFL is an extensive one, including Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Clements, Antoine Winfield, Chris Gamble, Donte Whitner and Kurt Coleman. And with two years of eligibility left at Ohio State, Barnett could be next.
4. TE Jake Stoneburner (6-5, 245)
With the new-look offense this season in Columbus, scouts are eager to see if Stoneburner will be used in a similar fashion as Aaron Hernandez was under Meyer at Florida. Stoneburner was one of the top tight-end recruits out of high school, even receiving an offer from Meyer's Gators, but decided to stay close to home in Columbus. After redshirting in 2008, Stoneburner spent his freshman season as Jake Ballard's backup. He was a part-time starter in 2010 and set career bests with 21 catches for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His stats declined last season as a junior, but he tied for the team lead with 14 grabs and set a personal best with seven scores. Stoneburner has a tall, athletic frame with a narrow build and lean torso, looking more like a bulky receiver than traditional tight end. He has good straight-line speed and is a nice catch-and-run player, but needs to stay balanced in and out of his breaks. Although he gives top effort as a blocker, Stoneburner isn't overpowering and tends to be too heavy-handed, leading to holding calls. He isn't overly aggressive in tight coverage and can be too easily overmatched physically by defenders in coverage. Stoneburner has nice focus, but only good, not great, hands with an underwhelming 37 combined catches in 36 career games. He was suspended this summer for a violation of team rules, but shouldn't miss any playing time. Although he is an intriuging receiving option, Stoneburner isn't the top-100 prospect that many are making him out to be and projects as more of a third-day selection.
5. OLB Etienne Sabino (6-3, 240)
Based off his performance as an underclassman, Sabino doesn't belong on this list. But with his raw athletic tools and upside, he will be a player that the NFL will value and keep under a microscope in 2012. Sabino arrived in Columbus as one of the highest recruits in the country, but with only five starts entering his senior season, his Buckeyes career has been mostly a disappointment. He was a five-star linebacker out of Miami and surprised many when he chose Ohio State over Southern Cal, Miami and Meyer's Gators. Sabino played in all 26 games as a freshman and sophomore, but mostly on special teams as he struggled to break into the starting lineup. He found himself on the bench again in 2010 so he took a healthy redshirt, giving him time to catch up mentally while saving a year of eligibility. Sabino played in every game last season as a junior (five starts), finishing fifth on the team with 62 tackles and 6½ tackles for loss. He has an athletic frame and flies all over the field with excellent range and the chase skills to catch the ballcarrier from behind. Sabino doesn't break down information quick enough and is routinely forced to play a step behind, lacking a great feel in coverage. He won't miss many tackles, but needs to improve his angles and is too often caught off balance, lacking the lateral burst to quickly change directions. Sabino is an athletic blitzer and is at his best downhill, working hard to shed blocks with adequate strength and length. Despite a limited résumé, he is set to start at strongside linebacker in 2012 as a senior and has one last season to prove to scouts that he deserved the hype coming out of high school. Sabino is the type of player who lacks the instincts and consistency to start at the next level, but could be a late-round pick and core special teams player.
RB Jordan Hall (5-9, 200)
RB Rod Smith (6-3, 230)*
FB Zach Boren (6-0, 245)
WR Corey Brown (5-11, 185)*
WR Verlon Reed (6-0, 200)*
OT Reid Fragel (6-8, 300)
OT Jack Mewhort (6-6, 310)*
OG Andrew Norwell (6-6, 305)*
OG Marcus Hall (6-5, 315)*
C Corey Linsley (6-3, 290)*
DE Nathan Williams (6-3, 250)
DT Garrett Goebel (6-4, 285)
CB Travis Howard (6-1, 195)
CB Bradley Roby (5-11, 190)*
S Orhian Johnson (6-3, 210)
S Christian Bryant (5-10, 190)*
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team-by-team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.