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.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball is the No. 3 running back
Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 2 fullback
Michigan's Denard Robinson is the No. 5 wide receiver
Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner is the No. 5 tight end
Wisconsin's Wagner is the No. 2 offensive tackle
Illinois' Graham Pocic is the No. 5 guard
Penn State's Matt Stankiewitch is the No. 5 center
Illinois' Michael Buchanan is the No. 1 defensive end
Ohio State's John Simon is the No. 3 defensive end
Purdue's Short is the No. 3 defensive tackle
Penn State's Michael Mauti is the No. 3 outside linebacker
Penn State's Gerald Hodges is the No. 5 outside linebacker
Illinois' Terry Hawthorne is the No. 2 cornerback
Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker
Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the No. 2 running back
Nebraska's Mike Marrow is the No. 4 fullback
Michigan State's Dion Sims is the No. 4 tight end
Michigan's Taylor Lewan is the No. 2 offensive tackle
Ohio State's Marcus Hall is the No. 5 guard
Wisconsin's Travis Frederick is the No. 1 center
Ohio State's Hankins is the No. 1 defensive tackle
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman is the No. 5 defensive tackle
Illinois' Jonathan Brown is the No. 4 inside linebacker
Wisconsin's Chris Borland is the No. 5 inside linebacker
Iowa's Mike Meyer is the No. 4 placekicker