Ohio State has a new Head Coach in Urban Meyer, so even a bowl ban this year can’t dampen the excitement surrounding the football program. Below are ten players (not counting tackle Reid Fragel, who I discussed at length here
) who should benefit from their new leader, and improve or solidify their NFL Draft stock. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Jake Stoneburner TE 6’5 245 – Currently suspended after a public urination incident, Stoneburner doesn’t figure to miss any regular season football action. Instead, he will likely be reinstated in time to become a featured player in Meyer’s offensive game plan. Last season, due to a few drops and lots of horrendous quarterback play, Stoneburner totaled only 14 catches. And while seven of those catches went for touchdowns, eight of his receptions and four of the TDs came in the first two weeks of the season against Akron and Toledo. Despite his modest statistics, Stoneburner is a talented athlete who can run and block. With some consistency at quarterback, he very well could work his way into the first two rounds of the draft.
Nathan Williams DE 6’3 249 – Williams was granted a redshirt year in 2011 after injuring his knee in the first game of the season. His stats don’t jump off the page – 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in 35 career games – but if he returns to pre-injury form, he has shown potential as a rush specialist. He will even be projected at 3-4 outside linebacker in some circles, though he has barely any experience dropping into coverage. Right now, he’s a question mark because of the knee, so the hope for Williams is that he has sufficiently recovered by the time the season starts.
John Simon DE 6’2 265
– Simon has already been compared to Tim Tebow
by Meyer. And while Simon’s passing ability may indeed be similar, Meyer was comparing the two players in terms of leadership and preparation. Simon is a weight room legend, who has played mostly on the interior of the defensive line during his first three years as a Buckeye. He dominated at times, rotating in at end last season, and finishing with seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He is a difficult player to project on the pro level. At 265 pounds he is too light to play tackle on every down. At 6’2, some evaluators worry about his height at defensive end. Other evaluators may try to view him as a linebacker. Wherever he lines up, he brings a no-quit intensity, and a high football IQ. He’ll need to show more discipline in his assignments this season, but his versatility will be attractive to NFL teams.
Johnathan Hankins* DT 6’4 317
– The Buckeyes lured “Big Hank” from his home state of Michigan, and he’s worked his way up from three star recruit
to potential top ten pick
. Last year he arrived on the scene with two sacks, ten tackles for loss and sixty-six total tackles – an eye-popping number of stops for a down lineman. His experience is inside in a 4-3 front, and while Hankins has dropped about 20 pounds since last season, he’s still got plenty of size to pique the interest of 3-4 teams looking for a nose tackle. Calling him a top-ten pick this early is mostly projection, but it speaks to the confidence evaluators have in the true junior behemoth. This will likely be his final season at Ohio State.
Bradley Roby* CB 5’11 190 – Only a redshirt sophomore, Roby emerged last season as the Buckeyes’ best cover man. He intercepted three passes, and broke up six others, demonstrating ball skills he learned playing wide receiver in high school. Roby isn’t afraid to come up in run support either, as 3.5 of his 47 tackles came behind the line of scrimmage. Roby isn’t likely to leave after the season, but he is a draft eligible cornerback on what is sure to be a high profile defense, so he’s worth keeping an eye on right from the get-go.
Travis Howard CB 6’1 196
– Unlike Roby, Howard seems like he’s been a Buckeye forever. A four-star recruit coming out of high school
, Howard has never quite lived up to that lofty billing. In his three seasons, he’s intercepted four passes, broken up seven others and forced a pair of fumbles. However, he’s not a consistent playmaker and is prone to giving up big plays. He’s decent in coverage, but tends to gamble too often and is not a great tackler. In addition Howard was suspended for a game last season for receiving improper benefits. He will need to be more disciplined on and off the field this year under Meyer and his staff.
C.J. Barnett* FS 6’1 202 – Barnett is a fourth year junior with only one full season of college ball under his belt. A highly regarded high school cornerback, Barnett missed most of 2010 with a knee injury. He returned to the lineup last season as safety and finished the year with 75 tackles and the first two interceptions of his career. Barnett’s legs seem to be in good shape, and he has timed speed estimated in the 4.4-4.5 second range. He’s been in school since the winter of 2009, so it won’t be a surprise if he declares for the draft after this season.
Etienne Sabino OLB 6’3 237
– Sabino was the top rated inside linebacker in the country
coming out of high school in Florida, but he’s never really delivered on that promise. Other than returning a blocked punt for a touchdown as a freshman, he was nearly invisible in his first two seasons. After redshirting in 2010, Sabino finished last year with 62 tackles, two sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss. And while he showed toughness by playing early last season with a broken hand, his performance was up and down. The Buckeyes are relatively thin at linebacker this year, so it will be important for Sabino to make a leap and finally live up to his potential.
Jordan Hall RB 5’9 198 – Despite the fact that he was overshadowed by his former high school teammate, Terrelle Pryor, Hall was a well regarded prospect in his own right. While he’s shown flashes of ability, he isn’t big enough and doesn’t run with enough authority to be used as an every down back. If Hall is going to catch on at the next level, it will be due to his versatility. He’s an adept, if underused, receiver out of the backfield, and he’s had success returning kicks. This season, Hall is likely to continue with his return duties, and work his way into the offense by occasionally spelling starter, Carlos Hyde.
Orhian Johnson SS 6’3 210 – Johnson will team with Barnett to form a formidable college safety unit. But while Johnson intercepted three passes last season, he isn’t great at playing the ball. In fact, he’s only broken up three other passes despite seeing significant playing time over the past two years. Johnson is probably no more than an undrafted free agent-type right now; but he has intriguing size, and with a new coaching staff he’ll have an opportunity to improve his stock.