Hankins, Short lead Big Ten NFL hopefuls

One argument against the Big Ten that I've never fully understood is that the league lacks elite defensive linemen.

Looking at the recent NFL drafts, defensive line has been by far the Big Ten's strongest position group. While the Big Ten isn't as deep as the SEC up front -- no conference can match that depth -- it has bigger problems than the men lining up at defensive end and defensive tackle.

J.J. Watt agrees with me, by the way.

It's not a surprise, then, that the Big Ten's top NFL prospects for 2013 are defensive linemen. Colleagues Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay recently came out with their latest draft rankings, and they both agree Ohio State junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is the top Big Ten player on the board.

Kiper has Hankins at No. 10 on his Big Board, citing Hankins' size and explosiveness. Hankins could be effective as both a nose tackle in a 3-4 or as an inside tackle in the 4-3 scheme like the one he plays in at Ohio State. McShay has Hankins at No. 12 on his list.

Another defensive tackle, Purdue senior Kawann Short, is the next Big Ten player listed by both Kiper and McShay. Kiper lists Short at No. 15, while Short comes in at No. 22 on McShay's list.

Wisconsin senior left tackle Ricky Wagner is the only other Big Ten player on either list, coming in at No. 25 on McShay's rundown.

Hankins has 31 tackles, including two for loss and a sack, this season. Short has eight tackles for loss, four sacks, three blocked kicks, a forced fumble and two pass breakups.

Several Big Ten players appear on Kiper's rundown of the top five seniors and top five juniors at each position.