Ohio State Buckeyes star linebacker Ryan Shazier, like many other underclassmen NFL Draft prospects, has a tough decision to make regarding his future. Should he stick around another year, continue working on his education and possibly raise his already-high draft stock or should he leave now and strike while the iron is hot?
If I’m an Ohio State fan I obviously want Shazier to stay. Next year’s squad figures to be another impressive team, and once again they’ll have a shot at a National Championship after ransacking what will be a watered down Big Ten (again). But if I’m an objective bystander (which I am), I think he should go jump to the next level now.
Similarly to the situation with Oregon QB Marcus Mariota (who was a projected top pick but decided to return to school), Shazier’s stock is already high. And unlike Mariota, Shazier is nearly fully developed physically to the point where he could step into a starting role on an NFL defense right away.
At 6-foot 2, 230-pounds and running a reported 4.58 40-yard dash, Shazier already has the tools physically to match up at the next level, certainly in a 4-3. His lateral quickness and speed enable him to make plays sideline to sideline, and he shows good balance rushing off the edge. He might have a hard time covering some of the bigger tight ends of the NFL like Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) or Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots), but who doesn’t? He’s still very solid in underneath coverage, especially making him valuable to teams primarily running a cover-2 base.
Could he play outside in a 3-4? He might not have enough bulk to play the strong side, but he’s got the athleticism to play the weak at an above average level. It’s also highly unlikely he’d be able to man the middle in a 3-4 as he can struggle at times shedding blocks, and that would be compounded by the strength and athleticism of guards in the NFL. But the middle in a 4-3, particularly a cover-2, could be a potential fit.
All in all, I think Shazier, who leads the Buckeyes in tackles (134), TFLs (22.5), FFs (4) to go along with six sacks, should strike while the iron is hot. Assuming he’d test as well as expected, he’d likely go in the middle to end of round one. This is a pretty solid OLB class that will be in the 2014 NFL Draft with three ranked ahead of Shazier as of now (UCLA‘s Anthony Barr, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and Alabama‘s C.J. Mosley), but that speaks more to the overall talent of the position of which there is plenty this year.
Should Shazier return to school and play for free for another year (while risking injury) he could improve his draft stock but probably not much more than it is now. I think he’ll be in the same range next year as he is this year in what could be another strong OLB class with potentially Adrian Hubbard (Alabama), Carl Bradford (Arizona State), Ronald Powell (Florida) and Xzavier Dickson (Alabama). Shazier would likely top that list, but he still wouldn’t crack the top-5 or even 10.
Take the money and run, Shazier.