Ohio State junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins announced on Monday that he would skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, where he is expected to be a first-round pick.
Several other draft-eligible underclassmen from the Big Ten will have to weigh their options in the coming days and weeks, though not all have as clear-cut a call as Hankins did. We'll never begrudge a player for wanting to make a living and support his family. But we're offering our unsolicited advice from a pure football perspective on which players should stay in school and which ones should start collecting paychecks.
Here are the underclassmen we see as most likely to wrestle with their NFL decisions:
Illinois DT Akeem Spence
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
Michigan State TE Dion Sims
Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Michigan State DE William Gholston
Michigan State DB Darqueze Dennard
Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman
Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Wisconsin C Travis Frederick
And what we think they should do:
Go pro: Spence, Lewan, Bell
Lewan is a likely first-round pick -- possibly the second tackle off of the board -- and Michigan's offensive line around him would be very young next year. He should bolt. Bell has 350 carries this year before the bowl game; running backs have short shelf lives, so he needs to get to the NFL before his body shows too much wear and tear. Spence is much less of a sure thing, but he's got an NFL build, has been on scouts' radar for a long time and probably doesn't want to suffer through what could be another long Illini season in 2013.
Go pro if ... : Sims, Gholston, Roby
All three could benefit from another year in college. Yet if they are projected in the top two rounds of the draft, they would probably be wise to strike while the iron is hot. Sims is an impressive physical specimen, but he's really only had one productive year and was hurt for large parts of it. Gholston has as much physical potential as anyone in the league but lacks consistency and could use some more seasoning and maturity. Roby, a redshirt sophomore, had a terrific season but still lacks much game experience. He may want to come back and help lead Ohio State on a potential BCS title run.
Stay in school: Bullough, Dennard, Hageman, Frederick
While all four of these guys would certainly draw some major NFL interest, each probably should spend another year on campus for various reasons. Bullough would have the chance to play alongside his younger brother, Riley, who could push for a starting job in '13. Dennard emerged from the shadow of teammate Johnny Adams this year and doesn't want to see his stock fall like Adams' might have. But he could probably also use a year as Michigan State's true No. 1 corner. Hageman finally lived up to his potential this season and has an NFL body, but the draft is loaded with defensive linemen, and he could use another year of seasoning. Frederick is an outstanding student who only has one full year at center under his belt.