Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 25, 2013

The NFL draft starts tonight with first-round picks, and the three-day event is often a benchmark for gauging any conferences depth. You can follow it pick by pick at

Thirty to 40 Big Ten players figure to be selected over the next three days but there may be few in the opening three rounds. The players with the best chance to go on Thursday are defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State and Kawann Short of Purdue.

Here?s a look at my 20 top Big Ten prospects with a projection.

1. Johnathan Hankins, 6-3/320, DT, Ohio State. (late-first round/early second): The big fella left school a year early, developing into a force up front. He?s a classic two-gap player who has the strength to take on a double-team. Hankins excels vs. the run and has great strength but isn?t much of a pass rusher.
2. Kawann Short, 6-3/308, DT, Purdue (second round): ?KK? was a prep basketball teammate in East Chicago of ex-Boilermakers great E?Twaun Moore, giving you an indication of his athletic ability. Short displayed an ability to play hard from down to down this season. He also has a knack for making plays.
3. Travis Frederick, 6-4/338, C, Wisconsin (third round): He is a massive 300-plus-pound anchor on the interior who lacks athletic ability. Frederick brings smarts, savvy and strength to the position; but the underclassman is not overly quick. In fact, he?s down-right slow. Frederick also can play guard.
4. Le?Veon Bell, 6-2/244, RB, Michigan State (third round): Bell literally and figuratively was the Spartan offense last season, carrying the ball 382 times for 1,793 yards. Why not get paid for that type of abuse? Exactly. So, Bell declared early. He?s a big, physical back who can move the pile but he lacks top-end speed.
5. Montee Ball, 5-11/215, RB, Wisconsin (third round): He came close to coming out last season but returned to cement himself as an all-time NCAA great. What Ball lacks in burst and top-end speed he compensates for with durability and toughness.
6. William Gholston, 6-6/278, E, Michigan State (third round): Gholston looks the part of a modern day Bubba Smith. But he doesn?t always play with intensity. Still, he opted to turn pro. In the correct environment, he may thrive as an edge rusher who also has the size to stop the run-especially as an end in a 3-4 scheme.
7. John Simon, 6-2/256, E, Ohio State (fourth round): The guy knows one speed: full blast. What he lacks if size and physical attributes Simon compensates for with sheer will. And he?s a leader who Urban Meyer has compared to Tim Tebow. Simon also has played some linebacker and defensive tackle. He had a Big Ten-high nine sacks last season.
8. Akeem Spence, 6-1/305, DT, Illinois (fifth round): He lacks height, but Spence is a bull who excels at getting penetration. Wedging him out of the hole is a difficult proposition. He?s the prototypical three-technique tackle. Not much of a pass rusher.
9. Reid Fragel, 6-7/298, OT, Ohio State (fifth round): He only played offensive tackle for one season. But the former tight end adapted quickly and exceled on the right side of the Buckeyes line in 2012. His best football is in front of him.
10. Dion Sims, 6-5/285, TE, Michigan State (fifth round): Another early entrant, Sims battled injury early-on in his career in East Lansing. So, durability may be an issue. But he put it together last season. Sims is a freakish combination of size and speed who can catch and block. A great athlete for his size.
11. Jake Stoneburner, 6-4/255, TE, Ohio State (fifth round): He?s a rangy tight end that was underutilized at Ohio State. Stoneburner proved to be a nice red-zone threat because of his size. He also has developed into a nice blocker.
12. Gerald Hodges, 6-1/239, LB, Penn State (fifth round): He?s a good athlete with sideline-to-sideline speed who also has a nose for the ball. Also a special teams asset with his speed. He led the team in tackles each of the past two seasons. He projects as an outside linebacker.
13. Ricky Wagner, 6-6/310, OT, Wisconsin (sixth round): His senior season failed to live up to the hype, as he dealt with a knee injury while playing the left tackle spot. Scouts think he lacks quickness. Still, the former walk-on tight end was productive.
14. Michael Mauti, 6-2/235, LB, Penn State (sixth round): ACL injuries to both knees have some teams worried. But, when he?s on the field, Mauti has few peers when it comes to playing with passion and producing. He?s a heart and soul guy whose intangibles are off the chart.
15. Terry Hawthorne, 6-0/194, CB, Illinois (sixth round): He played some wideout at Illinois, as he?s a terrific athlete. Hawthorne needs polish but has the size/speed combination that NFL teams crave at cornerback.
16. Michael Buchanan, 6-5/252, DE, Illinois (sixth round): He?s a rangy force off the edge whose quick first step can confound lumbering tackles. But how good is he vs. the run? With added bulk and strength, Buchanan could be a good pro.
17. Denard Robinson, 5-11/196, QB/WR/KR, Michigan (sixth round): Few can match Robinson?s athletic skills and breakaway speed. But he?s a work-in-progress as a wideout and return man. Could he be as good as, say, Brad Smith?
18. Jordan Hill, 6-2/294, DT, Penn State (sixth round): His lack of size and speed turns off some NFL teams. But Hill just finds a way to make plays, and he uses his quickness and smarts to excel in one-on-one situations.
19. Hugh Thornton, 6-3/313, OT, Illinois (seventh round): Yes, the Fighting Illini o-line struggled last season. But the physical Thornton was a consistent force. He has the athletic ability to play either left or right tackle. But he may lack the size and could end up at guard, where his quickness would be an asset.
20. Will Campbell, 6-5/318, DT, Michigan (seventh round): Yes, he largely failed to fulfill the ample promise he brought with him to campus. But Campbell showed his potential in bursts last season, as he finally is figuring out the effort it takes to play at a high level. Scouts love his size.

Others to watch:

  • Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State
  • Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
  • Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa
  • Josh Johnson, CB, Purdue
  • Eric Martin, DE, Nebraska
  • Craig Roh, DE, Michigan


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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