Thoughts on NFL Draft prospect Johnathan Hankins and the Steelers No. 17 overall pick

Kirk Irwin

Not that it's fair to compare either of the Ohio State players the Steelers have selected in the first two rounds of the last two drafts. Cameron Heyward (first round, 2011) and Mike Adams (second round, 2012) have nothing to do with Johnathan Hankins' prospective first round pick, but the Steelers can't seem to ignore former Ohio State players.

Not to suggest the Steelers will draft Ohio State nose tackle Johnathan Hankins, sight unseen.

But given their recent history with former Buckeyes players, can we honestly expect they'd pass on an OSU player with the No. 17 overall pick? This is partially tongue-in-cheek, but it's shallower in the cheek than a pinch of Kodiak.

Let's disregard the trade up for Santonio Holmes in 2006, or the seventh-rounder spent on Doug Worthington. There was the first-rounder spent on Cameron Heyward in 2011, followed by the second round pick spent on Mike Adams last year. If the Steelers were to take Hankins with the 17th overall pick, it would be their third Ohio State player taken in the first two rounds in the last three years.

Maybe Hankins has the potential to be better than the first two. While his four tackles-for-loss in his junior (final) year in Columbus is disturbing, it does meet what seems to be a emphasized point among the defensive linemen the Steelers draft and put on the field; he doesn't make plays.

Steve McLendon, who's roughly the same size as Hankins even if he has a few years on him, barely sees the field despite being the Steelers biggest playmaker on a per-play basis on the defensive line. He's gotten much bigger, and now he has to show he can maintain two gaps in run support.

We've suggested it wouldn't be a terrible idea to think about moving Ziggy Hood (another Steelers non-playmaking defensive lineman) inside to handle those two gaps due to his enormous amount of strength and adequate size, although he would have to bulk up a bit this offseason. That would give McLendon the ability to become the real utility player among a group of fairly blockish defensive linemen.

Maybe if the Steelers drafted Hankins and began prepping him to lock down that 0-technique role, it would give the Steelers the ability to mix-and-match packages with McLendon and Hood moving in and out from the 0 to the 5 (defensive end).

But maybe it's another really big Ohio State lineman, characteristics to which the Steelers seem addicted, like your buddy who only dates blondes who barely ever speak.

Obviously there's a ton of time for the stock of players to rise and fall, and this isn't saying Hankins is neither worthy of the No. 17 pick (most mocks seem to suggest he'll be gone before the Steelers pick), but the pick is high enough where, if the Steelers were going to invest on the defensive side of the ball, one would think they'd place playmaking at an absolute premium.

While the Steelers defense hasn't given up yards in the last two seasons, they saw a five points per game increase in scoring defense while their sack total has stayed right around the middle of the league.

The argument in favor of him, of course, will be a dominant zero-technique could open things up on the edges, and up the middle - an area Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has focused more on over the last season.


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