With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#28: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
We continue this year's series with Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound multi-position defender who has put up some fairly impressive tape -- if not the stats to match -- over the last two seasons. After making some plays as a freshman in 2010, he really came of age in 2011, amassing 32 solo tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 3.0 quarterback sacks. As a junior in 2012, Hankins' stats started to fall (23 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, and one sack), but the game tape still flashed with NFL potential -- as long as you watched the early parts of games. After that, Hankins would still make plays, but things started to slow down a bit, which is common among larger men who play 65-70 snaps per game.
Those conditioning concerns were not alleviated at the scouting combine, when Hankins rumbled to an official 5.31 40-yard dash -- the fourth-slowest among all defensive linemen. However, his three-cone (7.59) and short shuttle (4.61) times were in line with linemen who weighed in 20 pounds lighter. And that's the conundrum Hankins provides -- there are times when he is as dominant as any player in this draft class, and other times where the one thing standing between him and true greatness is perfectly obvious.
Pros: Weighs 320 pounds, but looks and plays much bigger, and that's both good and bad. As a (really big) three-tech tackle, Hankins rides the guard where he wants him to go, and can split a double team with his pure power. Agile in space for his size -- will rumble pretty well to the quarterback or ballcarrier once he's free. Will take a blocker back with his upper-body strength and disengages quickly. Comes off the snap with good leverage and creates impressive momentum. Occupies double teams well into the play, allowing other defenders to flow through gaps more easily. At times, he's shockingly quick in short spaces and will take down a ballcarrier with force that makes you re-run the play.
Wrestles with force and efficiency once he gets his hands inside the blocker's pads, and will occasionally just rag-doll a guard. Plays some five-tech end (outside the tackle) and produces as an edge run defender more than a pure pass-rusher. Outstanding on-field awareness allows him to keep an eye on the ballcarrier even as he's tied up, and he'll quickly bail out of blocks to stop the play. Keeps his eye on the quarterback if he can't get there and will occasionally drop into short coverage. As a head over center or nose-shade tackle, Hankins has the strength to either maintain or dominate, depending on the opponent, and how much gas he has left.
Cons: Hankins' size can also be a disadvantage -- he's not conditioned well, needs better musculature, and will clearly wear down over the course of games. Needs to be in a rotation as a result. Will start to drop off in power, block-cutting ability, and pure speed -- he'll half-step, slow down, and fail to break blocks he would chomp through earlier in games. Not a pass-rusher in any significant sense. Obviously has the right kind of lower body to play with power, but needs less butt and bigger legs -- his lower-body power goes first.
Conclusion: Hankins is an easy player to project to any NFL team playing multiple fronts and in need of pure power up and down the line. And it's important to delineate the difference between off-field conditioning work and on-field effort -- while he clearly needs an NFL strength program and a great trainer to kick his butt, Hankins will make effort plays late into games, even when he's clearly gassed. If he maximizes his physical potential in the weight room, what he takes to the field could be truly special, because you don't see too many players with his combination of strength and quickness.
Right now, it's something that really explodes through the first 15-20 plays of a game, and then starts to dissipate. There's no question that he could widen that spectrum and become a Pro Bowl-level talent, but that's entirely up to him. Right now, I could see him excelling in a Patriots- or Jets-style system where beef is needed up the middle and out to the tackles. Hankins was groomed for that role by Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who played eight years for New England, and certainly understands how multiple defenses are supposed to work.
The Wilfork comparison may seem like a stretch if you look at the totally dominant player Wilfork has become, but it's worth mentioning that when he came out of Miami, Wilfork also had NFL people wandering about his conditioning (right down to the big gut/big butt/thin legs trifecta), and how he'd hold up to the rigors of the next level. Wilfork completely eradicated those concerns after he was selected in the first round of the 2004 draft, and Hankins has the chance to do the same -- probably from a similar draft position.