- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Only three names remain in our preseason countdown of the Big Ten's top 25 players. These are the virtual can't-miss prospects, the guys who could lead their teams to big things this fall.
As a reminder, these rankings are based on past performance and potential for this season.
The next player already has his new coach gushing and drawing comparisons to one of college football's greats (Tim Tebow) ...
No. 3: John Simon, DE, Ohio State, senior, 6-foot-2, 263 pounds
2011 postseason rank: No. 15
2011 numbers: Led Ohio State in both tackles for loss (16) and sacks (7), ranking seventh and fifth in the league, respectively. He finished with 53 total tackles had a fumble recovery, three pass breakups and a quarterback hurry, starting all 13 games for the Buckeyes.
Why he's here: Simon's teammates branded him a future superstar at an early age, and he has delivered so far and could be saving his best for last. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in 2011 and was a third-team AP All-America selection after anchoring Ohio State's pass rush despite playing both line positions. Simon is a short defensive end and an undersized defensive tackle, which is probably why he doesn't get much love from the NFL evaluators. But the guy is an exceptional football player who can dominate games at times.
It didn't take long for Simon to win over new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, who branded the senior "Tebowish" before self-editing and calling him "Simonish." Meyer told me this spring, "I've only coached one or two like him. He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment. He's elite, elite." Simon also excels in the weight room, and while he's not the most vocal person, his position as a team leader is unquestioned.
After anchoring an average Ohio State defense in 2011, Simon guides a unit that has a chance to reclaim a spot among the nation's elite. The defensive line could be the Big Ten's best, and he'll play mostly on the edge as a pass-rusher. His numbers could soar as Ohio State upgrades around him with players like Johnathan Hankins.