Ohio State has a long-standing tradition of producing quality NFL talent. Since 2000, the program has produced more NFL draft picks than any other school, as 83 Buckeyes have had their names called by NFL teams since the new millennium. Though the program is not graduating any players who will be drafted in the top ten, a number of Buckeyes might be receiving phone calls before the name of Mr. Irrelevant is called on Saturday, April 27.
Below is a rundown of the ten Buckeyes who have a legitimate shot to be drafted or signed as a free agent soon after. Each player saw significant playing time at Ohio State, and has a chance to make an impact, to varying degrees, in the NFL.
Jonathan Hankins: Leading this year’s Ohio State draft class is Jonathan Hankins. The defensive tackle decided in December that the grass was greener in the NFL and bypassed his senior year for a chance to play in the pros. According to Dane Bugler of CBSSports.com, Hankins is a lineman with a “rare combination” of size, foot speed and strength. Hankins had a stellar junior year. In his second year as a starter, Hankins racked up 55 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack. Big Hank was versatile at the position, demonstrating that he can fit into either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme in the NFL. He defends the run well and possesses good awareness and instincts. He will most likely be picked towards the end of the first round or at the start of the second. Hankins is not the best defensive tackle in this year’s draft class, but will make a nice prize for the team that chooses him.
John Simon: Few fans of the Scarlet and Gray can forget John Simon. The dedicated Buckeye who plays with passion and drive, Simon made a reputation for himself in Columbus. He was a consistent playmaker at OSU who could be relied upon for energy and big plays. Despite all of Simon’s positive qualities, he faces a challenge in the NFL. Too small to play defensive line and too big to play linebacker, he has already been deemed a “tweener.” In spite of this, Simon is an intriguing prospect for NFL scouts. Simply looking at his stats during his senior season could give a quarterback a case of the jitters. Simon totaled 44 tackles, nine sacks (first in the Big Ten), and 14.5 tackles for loss. He garnered the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year awards for his efforts. The intense lineman also earned All-Big Ten and 3rd team AP All-American honors. Over the course of his career, he started 37 consecutive games over three seasons before suffering a minor knee injury in the week prior to the Michigan game.
Known for his non-stop motor, Simon is a great tackler with “excellent recognition skills.” A relentless player, Simon is dedicated on and off the football field. Head coach Urban Meyer compared the talented athlete’s work ethic to that of the coach’s well-known quarterback at Florida– Tim Tebow. But as stated before, Simon is too small to play defensive line as he did as a Buckeye. This will hurt his draft stock. He will get used to sitting back in coverage and running one-on-one with backs and tight ends. This will be a major adjustment. In Pro Bowl practice, he looked like a “fish out of water,” according to Bugler. Simon doesn’t yet have the footwork needed to succeed at linebacker. He will need coaching to become a mainstay at the position. Regardless, Simon’s remarkable work ethic and motor will likely earn him a spot on an NFL roster. He is currently projected as a third rounder.
Etienne Sabino– Many thought when Sabino chose the Bucks that he would join a long line of great Ohio State linebackers. But the five star recruit out of high school never seemed to put it all together in college. Not to say that Sabino didn’t have a solid career, but he didn’t become the all-star he was projected to be. He also missed much of his senior year with a broken fibula. Sabino did manage 45 tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two interceptions in eight games, though. There are many NFL greats who didn’t shine in college. Sabino has the raw athletic ability to succeed in the pros. The linebacker “flies all over the field” and blitzes well downhill. Though he has to improve at processing information and taking good angles, Sabino will likely be taken around the fifth round.
Reid Fragel– The most memorable characteristic of Reid Fragel is his height. Standing at 6’8 and 310 pounds, Fragel is an imposing figure. A converted tight end, the Grosse Point Farms (MI) native played offensive tackle during Meyer’s inaugural season at Ohio State. Fragel recognized that tight ends don’t usually play a large role in Meyer’s offensive scheme, so Fragel made the transition to offensive tackle. He added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, bulking up while keeping his quickness. The switch was ultimately successful, as he provided a solid senior presence on the offensive line. Fragel performed well this season, never relenting his starting role. But going into the NFL, he is at a bit of a disadvantage. As one would imagine, his technique at the offensive tackle position is not refined to a professional level. But with time, Fragel can develop into a solid offensive tackle. One potential worry is an undisclosed injury that held him out of the Senior Bowl, but Fragel probabaly will still go off the board around the fifth or sixth round.
Zach Boren– Another player who flip-flopped positions his senior year, Zach Boren established himself as a leader at linebacker as the season wore on. Originally a fullback, Boren transitioned to linebacker early in the 2012 campaign, as Meyer’s offense doesn’t typically call for a bruising back. Since Boren played linebacker in high school, he soon readjusted to the position. He became a mainstay of OSU’s talented defense, growing into a fearless inside linebacker. Boren showed good awareness and agility at the position, posting impressive stats. He racked up 50 tackles, a sack and five tackles for loss en route to being named the team’s Defensive Player of the Year. Due to his late switch, it is unlikely that Boren will be drafted until the later rounds. At the very least, Boren should get a chance with an NFL squad as a special teams player, thanks to his tenacity and drive.
Jake Stoneburner– Though he did flirt with other positions, Jake Stoneburner was mostly used as a tight end at OSU. A tall, athletic player talented at catching and blocking, Stoneburner saw time as a tight end, H-back, fullback and wide receiver at Ohio State. While he didn’t rack up monumental stats his senior year (16 catches for 269 yards and four touchdowns), Stoneburner displayed a number of good qualities, such as “smooth” footwork, “tenacity” as a blocker and “excellent” body control. He had a good enough career as a Buckeye to at least earn a chance with an NFL team as a late-round flier. But repeated holding penalties and limited stats will hinder his draft stock. Right now, he is projected as a sixth to seventh round pick.
Travis Howard– A cornerback with some definite talent but some significant shortcomings, Travis Howard is a player who has the talent to play in the NFL but needs some work. Howard enjoyed a solid career with the Bucks, especially during his senior season. He recorded 40 tackles, six passes defensed and a Big Ten best four interceptions, earning him Honorable All-Big Ten honors. As he displayed in 2012, Howard has good ball skills and foot quickness. Though a bit lean for a cornerback at 6’1 and 198 pounds, Howard makes good reads and is aggressive in run support. But the playmaker has to work on his timing, positioning and discipline. He has the potential to be a contributor in the NFL, but must fix these areas of his game. Howard looks to be a third day pick, as he will likely go in the seventh round.
Nathan Williams– A defensive line/linebacker hybrid, Nathan Williams is, in a way, a lesser-known version John Simon. Williams is a physical tackler who plays with a lot of energy just like Simon, though Williams struggled with a knee injury during his time at Ohio State. He missed the 2011 season because of his knee, but worked his way back into the lineup in 2012. By the end of his senior campaign, Williams looked fully healthy. He certainly played like it, notching 40 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss on the year. Scouts may doubt about his ability to stay healthy, but Williams could improve his draft stock with a good Combine. As of now, he is projected to either be picked in the seventh round or go undrafted.
Orhian Johnson– A versatile safety who had to fight for playing time at Ohio State, Orhian Johnson is an intriguing prospect. During his career as a Buckeye, he not only played both safety positions, but also spent time at outside linebacker and cornerback. Though he often had to battle for playing time with higher-ranked recruits, Johnson always found a way onto the field. His size and athleticism certainly had something to do with that. With the talent he displayed at OSU, he could be a solid special teams player in the pros. But Johnson has some obstacles to overcome if he expects to play on defense. He needs to add some muscle, eliminate the “dumb” penalties he has been known to incur and also take better angles in run support. Still, Johnson should earn a spot on an NFL roster, whether he is taken very late in the draft or signed as an undrafted free agent.
Garrett Goebel– As a defensive tackle for the Bucks, Garrett Goebel posted impressive stats. During his senior season, he compiled 86 tackles, two sacks, 12 tackles for loss, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery. Goebel flew under the radar, though, as he was not well-known as a Buckeye. He has not been noticed too much by scouts, either. Though he started every game of his junior and senior seasons, Goebel will most likely not be drafted. He still has a shot to be picked up by a team via free agency, though. Goebel will have to establish himself on special teams or on the practice squad before he gets a major opportunity with an NFL team.
Information from CBSSports.com, OhioStateBuckeyes.com and NFL.com was used in this article. Phrases in quotation marks are words used by Dan Bugler of CBSSports.com.