Friday, April 13, 2012

BRAXTON MILLER SITS ATOP MY SPRING GAME DRAFT BOARD

Braxton Miller
(TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
With the Ohio State football team set to hold their spring game draft next week, it got me to thinking: Whom would I select if I were in charge?

The task wasn't simple by any means, but I put on my General Manager's cap and decided to assemble a Top 10 draft board in the order I would select those currently on the Ohio State spring roster (seniors included).

Here's my board ...

1. BRAXTON MILLER, QB (So.)

"Having a quarterback who can make something out of nothing is every coach's dream. And we've got one." — Those were the words uttered by Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer after Wednesday's practice about Miller. 

I believe that a team is built around a quarterback, and if you possess a game-changing type of talent like Miller, you take him No. 1. You can see through the first three weeks of spring practice that Miller has become more confident running the show. He's also progressed tremendously throwing the football this spring under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator and QB coach Tom Herman. His passes are crisp and on time ... and they are spiraling.

After watching him this spring in three live scrimmages, I'll take Miller first ... and won't look back.

John Simon
(TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
2. JOHN SIMON, DE (Sr.)

I almost labeled Simon as 1a, instead of No. 2, because the 6-foot-2, 260-pound native of Youngstown has been a monster through the first three weeks of camp. I mean, this guy has spent as much time in the Buckeyes' offensive backfield as Miller has this spring. 

Besides quarterback, a pass rusher is in my opinion the most critical ingredient of team's success, and Simon is looking like an unstoppable force. C'mon, when your two-time national championship winning head coach admits he's in love with you and that you are "Ohio State football" and "Tebowish," you have to be near or at the top of the draft board.

3. RYAN SHAZIER, OLB (So.)

When you think of Ohio State football, linebacker has to enter your thoughts. Names like Randy Gradishar, Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, A.J. Hawk and James Laurinaitis come to mind. Shazier fits that mold.

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound sophomore looks at full strength after suffering a knee injury late last season, displaying his quick, hard-hitting style this spring. But what makes me list Shazier this high isn't his athletic abilities or his toughness ... it's his instincts. To me, what Shazier has is born in him, not taught. He has an ability to feel the game, and when you have that trait — wrapped in an athletically gifted individual — you have the makings of a superstar.

4. JOHNATHAN HANKINS, DT (Jr.)

Big Hank has trimmed down this spring to what Braxton Miller described as a "buff" 317 pounds. Hankins has been a wrecking ball in the interior of the Buckeyes' defensive front thus far in practice, providing another pass rushing threat to go along with Simon.

Coach Meyer said he wants to possess a unit that can rush the passer without having to send a ton of blitzes. Hankins' play this spring is making Meyer's hopes come true.

5. JORDAN HALL, RB/ATH. (Sr.)

Meyer loves playmakers. Meyer called Hall a Playmaker. So, that means Meyer loves Hall. And when Meyer loves playmakers, he uses them ... and they become stars.

I have seen Hall play everything in the Buckeyes new offense from tailback to wide receiver to slot man to wildcat quarterback this spring. Hall has Percy Harvin written all over him. He's quick, smart, tough, can catch out of the backfield and can be inserted anywhere on the field. He is going to get touches in this offense, and with his natural abilities, he has to be a top five selection on my board.

Carlos Hyde
(TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
6. CARLOS HYDE, RB (Jr.)

Staying with the "playmaker" theme, Hyde has been just that this spring. Not only has he been the most impressive pure runner in the backfield, but he's also proving to be an outstanding weapon in the pass game. During Wednesday's live scrimmage, Hyde hauled in a pass deep down field from Miller and raced ahead of the defense for an 80-yard touchdown.

He, along with Hall will make for the best one-two backfield punch in the nation this fall. Book it.

"He's drinking the Kool-Aid," Meyer said of Hyde.

That's scary, folks!

7. DORAN GRANT, CB (So.)

Ok, you are probably wondering why I have a player on my board who isn't even in the starting lineup? Well, after watching practice this spring, Doran Grant has been the best player in the defensive backfield. He is a shutdown corner and will no doubt be inserted into the starting lineup sometime very soon. He's just too talented to be riding the pine. He has size (5-11, 188), speed, athleticism, and like Shazier, has an instinct for the game that can't be learned.

I haven't seen many passes — if any — being connected on Grant this spring. I've also heard cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs numerous times during practice yelling to current starters Travis Howard and Bradley Roby that "Doran wants your job!"

Meyer said they will be playing the best guys. Grant is fitting that bill.

Nathan Williams
(Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
8. NATHAN WILLIAMS, OLB/DE (Sr.)

Meyer stated that Williams won't be able to run until June after undergoing knee surgery. But that still won't prevent me from keeping the fifth-year senior off my board.

I recall two years ago having a conversation with Williams at practice while he was rehabbing a knee injury he suffered in a fall camp jersey scrimmage. I asked him if he thought he would be ok, and he guaranteed it. As I walked away he said, "Don't worry, I'm one tough son of a (expletive)!" So, I have to believe that Williams will be able to make it back onto the field this fall. He will give Meyer's defense yet another pass rusher with a high motor.

9. JAKE STONEBURNER, TE (Sr.)

Stoneburner is what people in the draft rooms call a "safe pick." He is a pass-catching tight end who should relish in Meyer's new "spread" offense. He has been running out wide and in the slot most of the spring and has gobbled up every ball that's been thrown his way.

Stoneburner caught just 14 passes last season in Jim Bollman's offense. Look for him to have those numbers by the end of the Central Florida game — the second contest of the season.

10. MICHAEL BENNETT, DE (So.)

Coach Meyer admitted this spring that he wasn't a big fan of Bennett when he took over in January. But he said that the 6-foot-3, 277-pound native of Centerville (OH) is proving him wrong.

Bennett has been a force coming off the left side this spring, not only showing a quick first step, but also incredible upper body strength. In Wednesday practice, Bennett made starting right guard Marcus Hall and right tackle Reid Fragel look like blocking dummies in a combine rush drill.

This might be putting a whole lot of pressure on Bennett saying this, but he reminds me a lot of Simon. He has that kind of game.

JUST MISSED THE BOARD: S C.J. Barnett, FB Zach Boren, S Christian Bryant, CB Travis Howard, CB Bradley Roby, LB Etienne Sabino, WR Devin Smith, WR Michael Thomas.

— You can follow Lee Hudnell on Twitter @LeeHudnell_TBT