DT Johnathan Hankins opts for draft

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Johnathan Hankins played a huge role in Ohio State's perfect season. But the junior defensive tackle won't be returning to help the Buckeyes try to do it again.

The school confirmed on Monday that the potential first-round pick will forgo his final season of eligibility and make himself available for the NFL draft in April, giving coach Urban Meyer an entire defensive line to rebuild in the offseason after losing the big man in the middle.

"I have decided, with the support of my family, to forego my senior season at Ohio State in order to enter the NFL draft," Hankins said in a release. "I will always be grateful for the family I have gained here at Ohio State.

"My three years at the Ohio State University have provided amazing experiences for me, and they are years I will never forget or take for granted."

Hankins provided plenty of memorable moments along the way for the Buckeyes on the run to an undefeated season, anchoring the middle of the defensive front with his massive 6-foot-3, 322-pound frame and athleticism that allowed him to beat double-teams and find a way into the backfield.

He capped his run with the program with 55 tackles (four for loss), though his impact often didn't show up on the stat sheet as he occupied blockers and allowed teammates room to operate and make plays.

Defensive ends John Simon and Nathan Williams and nose tackle Garrett Goebel were already going to have to be replaced after exhausting their eligibility, and while there was some hope that Hankins might return to play for a championship next fall, his rising stock in NFL circles made it seem like a long shot.

"I have enjoyed coaching and getting to know Johnathan Hankins over the past year," Meyer said. "His hard work on and off the field has given him an opportunity to move on to the next level. The coaching staff and I wish him all the best."