The Ohio State Buckeyes have been waiting for a decision from Ryan Shazier on whether or not he will forgo his senior season and head to the NFL. Like Braxton Miller, who still has not made a decision despite reports indicating otherwise, Shazier was waiting until after the Orange Bowl so as not to take any attention away from that.
He certainly did not waste any time making his decision public, confirming reports on Saturday that he will declare for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Shazier led the Buckeyes in tackles in each of the last two seasons. Heading into the Orange Bowl, he also led the Big Ten in tackles and tackles for loss. He is considered to be small for the linebacker position, but he is indeed a playmaker. As a result, he is predicted to be picked in the first round of the draft.
It was likely his good draft stock and the fact that he doesn’t have much else to prove with the Buckeyes that swayed him towards the NFL. During bowl preparations, he did not want to give anything away, saying that he was leaning towards staying at Ohio State but hadn’t made a final decision yet. Now that he has, what will it mean for the Ohio State defense in 2014?
Losing Shazier will be a big hit to the Ohio State defense, especially because of their lack of depth at the linebacker position already. He was the anchor of that defense and led the team with 143 tackles, which were 59 more than any other Ohio State player. Shazier was a first-team all-Big Ten and All-American selection this season, and was also named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week three times in 2013.
The Buckeyes will likely have to rely on Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry to fill Shazier’s shoes next season. Perry improved as the season progressed, but Grant has fought injuries all season and was never able to play up to his potential. Young players like Trey Johnson, Camren Williams, Mike Mitchell and incoming freshman Raekwon McMillan could likely be part of the Buckeyes’ defensive plan in 2014.
Shazier’s departure puts more pressure onto defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to figure out a good defensive plan despite the lack of depth at the linebacker position.
A few of Ohio State’s young defensive players made impressions in the Orange Bowl in their loss to the Clemson Tigers. Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Jamal Marcus all made their first career starts, while Armani Reeves made his first start since early in the 2013 season. They all stepped up and made plays when they needed to and showed Ohio State what they can look forward to defensively in the future.
Yes, Ohio State will be losing their two best defensive players in Shazier and Bradley Roby. Yes, their absences will leave a huge void on the Ohio State defense. However, their departures open doors for the younger players to step up and show what they can do. Many of them have already showed a lot of promise.
Will Ohio State’s defense show improvement in 2014 despite these losses? We’ll just have to wait until August to find out.