Ohio State NFL Combine Recap: Defense

By Kyle Rowland on February 26, 2013 at 10:00a
Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins should be the first Buckeye selected in the 2013 NFL Draft

Even in the offseason Monday belongs to football. At least that was the case this week with the NFL Combine taking place in Indianapolis. The weekend belonged to offensive players, while defensive linemen and linebackers had their opportunity to impress NFL front office personnel yesterday.

It’s an especially deep year for defensive prospects, with a majority of the top 10 picks projected to come from that side of the ball. Some mock drafts have defensive linemen representing one-third of the selections in the first round. One of those players could be former Ohio State defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins. Big Hank is widely considered to be a first-round selection in April and some have him slotted among the top 10.

The weekend actually presented bad news for some of the best defensive players available. It was discovered that Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has a heart condition. Lotulelei is considered to be the No. 1 overall pick by several draft experts. He did not participate in any workouts. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones was found to have a spinal condition that could send him plummeting down draft boards.

And then, of course, there is Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker answered questions from the media for the first time since his infamous girlfriend hoax story broke in January.

Along with Hankins, former Buckeyes Etienne Sabino, John Simon and Nathan Williams all received invites. The quartet will attempt to continue a proud Ohio State tradition of placing talented players in the NFL. 

Johnathan Hankins

Of all the pro prospects on Ohio State last season, Hankins clearly has the most potential. At the combine, Hankins graded out as an “immediate starter.” He’s a mastodon with a combination of strength and agility that doesn’t come along too often for defensive linemen.

Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 320 pounds, Hankins actually did below-average in the 40-yard dash (5.31 seconds), vertical (26 inches) and broad jump (104 inches). But his size and athleticism kept him solidly positioned to be selected in the first round. 

Hankins declined to do the bench press, choosing instead to partake in the drill at Ohio State’s Pro Day on March 8 because of a minor pectoral muscle injury.

“I’ve been working extremely hard,” he said. “I’m just going to let my talents and my efforts speak for themselves. Wherever I get drafted, I’m blessed to even be there. Where I go, I’m happy with that.”

Even with his skills, Hankins said his decision to leave Ohio State was tough. He revealed that he had second thoughts and that head coach Urban Meyer was surprised when Hankins delivered the news about his departure one year early from Ohio State. In the end, though, Hankins’ inner circle believed the NFL was the appropriate path when the advisory council indicated he was projected to be a first-round pick.

Hankins said Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata is his football idol and someone he models his own game after.

“I like how he plays sideline to sideline,” Hankins said. “The way he uses his hands and feet, I think I do the same and could potentially do it better.”

A common opinion on Hankins has been how well he can play laterally, especially for his size. His feet are exceptionally quick. Hankins has continued to lose weight since his freshman season, making him more effective with added speed. And unlike college, he won’t be going against double teams every game. Granted, the offensive linemen are better in the NFL.

“I’m good going lateral,” Hankins said. “I definitely can get some pressure or some push. Anywhere is good for me.”

Etienne Sabino

The combine is a huge event for fringe late-round players like Sabino. It looked like he’d make the most of his opportunity, running a 4.75 40 – not great, but not awful. However, Sabino injured his hamstring on the run and shut down for the day.

Prior to that, he managed to rep 225 pounds 24 times, eighth-best among linebackers. His broad jump was 114 inches.

Now, Pro Day in Columbus will be Sabino’s last chance to impress scouts.

John Simon

John Simon did not participate in Indy because of a shoulder injury.A shoulder injury held Simon out of the Combine. 

Not many wore the Scarlet and Gray better than Simon. For four seasons he played with reckless abandon, making a name for himself as a gym rat that relished lifting weights. Simon enjoyed an almost cult-like following, and it grew once Meyer became coach.

Meyer preached the John Simon Gospel vigorously this past season. In what turned out to be his last game as a Buckeye, Simon, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, delivered a masterpiece performance, tallying a school record-tying four sacks in an overtime win over Wisconsin. But he missed the season finale against Michigan due to a knee injury. It was a gut-punch to Simon, Meyer, the team and the fans. No one wanted to see him not be able to compete in his final home game.

In Indianapolis, it was a shoulder injury that shelved Simon. The issue first cropped up at the Senior Bowl in January, eventually prompting surgery. That kept him from participating in any drills at the combine. Instead, Simon only partook in interviews with team personnel.

“I never got it fixed and thought I could go one more game with it, and that wasn’t the case,” Simon said about the bum shoulder. “I had to go get it fixed. Fortunately, it was just a clean-out, and I should be back to doing everything in about two to three weeks.”

At the Senior Bowl, Simon was in the process of molding his defensive end skills with those of a linebacker. He’ll likely have to play outside linebacker in the NFL, coupled with defensive end.

“I feel like I’m very versatile, and that can help me at the next level,” Simon said. “I feel I can play multiple positions, and that’s something that will work to my advantage in the draft.”

Simon is expected to be ready for Pro Day.

Nathan Williams

Williams is expected to go in the later rounds.Williams should get taken in the later rounds.

Simon isn’t the only Buckeye vying for time at linebacker. Williams is in the same boat. A lack of speed in the 40, however, raises questions as to how well he could stack up in the NFL against top-flight offensive players. Williams also dropped catchable “interceptions” during linebacker drills. He participated in the defensive line segment of the combine as well.

Williams was timed at 4.88. He did have a notable vertical measured at 35 inches, as well as a 113-inch broad jump and 24 reps on the bench press.

Williams is only 17 months removed from a serious knee injury that required microfracture surgery. He rehabbed vigorously in the 2011 offseason to return for 2012, though Williams did miss two games because of overexertion.

“It was a very rough process throughout the whole offseason trying to get back,” he said. “I did everything possible to make it back the first game. That was my goal. I met my goal, and I really had gotten better each week as the season went along. The more I went along the better I got. I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”

That injury is a major sticking point with NFL GMs and the primary reason why Williams in considered a late-round pick or undrafted free agent. But the one spot where he’s coveted is weakside linebacker. Pro Football Weekly rates him No. 1 at thet position and a mid-round selection.

“They have me at defensive line. I know I’m going to have to do some linebacker stuff,” Williams said. “I’m prepared to do both. I’ve heard everything from outside linebacker to middle linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. I haven’t heard too much as far as 4-3 schemes.”


Comments Show All Comments

awwwwwwop's picture

I have a quick question.  Was the information about Jarvis Jones new and different from what we already knew? I know USC refused to clear him because of the spinal injury but that Georgia cleared him.  Was there some sort of new issue that they found this week?

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

Kyle Rowland's picture

It became a pretty big talking point at the combine because of the medical testing. Doctors involved with professional sports are extremely thorough because of the money wrapped up in the players. Some said the condition will impact his career, similar to Jared Sullinger's case last summer leading up to the NFL Draft. That is where the new info comes from. 

awwwwwwop's picture

Ah, I see.  Thanks for clearing that up!

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

b_pbucksfans's picture

I have spinal stenosis (along with other back problems) and it can be a real problem. What it is in most conditions is Jarvis Jones has a bulging disc(s) and when irritated, that disc pushes on the nerves in the spinal cord. Can be very painful and irritating. Most stenosis cases can be fixed (to a point) by surgery. I think Jarvis can be a outstanding LB in the NFL but one wrong hit and his career might be over.

bedheadjc's picture

Big Hank left too early. I think even he realizes it now. Needed another year of Mariotti. And some emphasis on rush/push skills.

Buckeye06's picture

I think Meyer, as well as a ton of coaches say, if you are going in the first round, leave.  Now, Hankins may slip, so that matta may not hold true.  I wonder how many guys "grade out" as 1st round picks?

bedheadjc's picture

Too many it would seem. Guys you never would have thought could go in the first round or any round, should never have left early, always seem to and then are never heard from again let alone catch on.
Not saying that applies to Hank. But obviously some Kool-Aid was drunk.
Definitely rooting for him.

jeremytwoface's picture

Yeah if I had the choice between another year of school or millions of dollars, I would have to take the millions of dollars

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

AcrossTheField11's picture

I was surprised that Meyer was surprised that he was going pro.  If I'm a coach and one of my players is tabbed as a first round selection, I'm expecting them to leave, lest something catastrophic happen.  Hankins' room for growth and incremental draft stock value for adding an extra year was far less than a guy like Brad Roby.  

Time and change will surely show how firm they friendship... O-HI-O.

BrewstersMillions's picture

This is all presumptuous though. Everyone assumes a guy leaves too early if he doesn't land in the first round. He could just be content being drafted, it doesn't mean it has to be in the first round. He also spent all year hearing and reading that he would be a first rounder but the combine and pro days will change that for the better or worse. He left exactly when he felt he was ready to leave-as does every early departure.


Late first/early 2nd round money is still good money. He gets hurt his senior season he likely plummets on the board or doesn't get drafted at all. It's a really hard decision to make to turn down guaranteed money. Even if he only lasts in the league for a few years he's still going to make more money than most of us will ever see in a lifetime just from the signing bonus alone. Rooting for Big Hank to be successful.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

sharks's picture

First, 'Mastodon' might be the best description of Big Hank that I've read.  Another year of seasoning may have helped him, but certainly there's risk there too (Matt Barkley). 
Finding information on Jarvis Jones has been difficult- everyone knows about the spinal stenosis, the USC decision, and his career at UGA.  I still think he may be one solid hit away from a wheelchair.
I think Simon hurts his status a ton by not being ready for the combine.  Should have had a full physical right after the Sr. Bowl (especially if he felt something in his shoulder) and surgery soon after.

A man got to have a code...

Baroclinicity's picture

I hate what has happened to Nathan Williams.  Micro-fracture surgery... the career killer.  I know some people have come back and come back well (A. Stoudemire), but more often than not, it spells long term disaster.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

WolverineKiller's picture

Best of luck to all of the Buckeyes entering the draft this year!

Just Win.

ARMYBUCK's picture

I agree with the thought on Nathan Williams, it does suck but he has already beaten the odds just by playing last year.  I look for Williams to beat the odds in the NFL too even if it means signing short term contracts with teams wary of some sort of relapse.  Definitely pulling for him.  Good luck to all!

chitown buckeye's picture

I am always torn on the subject. I see both points but I think I am in the camp of not leaving early unless you are the top 1 or 2 at your position. This is easy for me to say as I have never had 6 or 7 figure signing bonuses and salaries offered to me while I was a Jr in college.
It just seems to me that its easy for us to sit back and act like these kids are financially set for life with this decision. If they leave early and are happy with "just being drafted" I would worry a high percentage of them may only be in the league for a few years max. That is not enough money to live off of your entire life. Even if you are a first rounder with the 7 figure signing bonus and you are a bust in 3 seasons where does that leave you? We all have heard the horror stories of season vets being swindled out of money or not spending their money wisely.
Obviously there is always a chance for injury but with todays insurance policies, etc.. I think you can protect yourself financially and become better at what you do with an extra year of school. You will go into the league with a much better chance of succeeding on the field and off the field IMO. But I get the show me the money argument, it would be tough to walk away from!

"I'm having a heart attack!"

dlb72osu's picture

Nathan Williams was a pure joy to watch from the very first time he got on the field and almost every time after that. That type of injury is considered totally debilitating to most athletes and yet he came back to have a good senior year, albeit not a typical Nathan Williams year. Like the others here, I only wish the best for him no matter what his career path. He certainly gave his all to tOSU.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

osubuckeye4life's picture

Best of luck to all of these Buckeyes at the next level!