When NFL franchises are looking at their big board of prospects, it’s not to overlook the products the Ohio State Buckeyes churn out year after year, with a majority of them being ready to step onto the field at the next level and produce results. Sure, some have faltered, despite luxurious careers in college, but linebacker Ryan Shazier has the game, tenacity, speed and so much more to allow him to succeed with the Green Bay Packers.
To slot Shazier at the No. 21 overall selection means someone among the linebacker corp is the odd man out, specifically Brad Jones. The former seventh-round pick hasn’t necessarily done anything paramount throughout his playing career to denote him as second fiddle, coming off an 84-tackle season in 2013 at age 28. Yet, when an organization can get younger at any position, let alone one that I identify as a need for the Packers at the linebacker position, it’s wise to consider an upgrade. Plus, one also has to consider the talent discrepancy between a possible incoming player and the incumbent.
While I’m still a firm believer in the production of Jones, the potential of Shazier does it over for me as to why they should select the Fort Lauderdale, FL native. When I look at any prospect, the biggest aspect of their game that should jump off the page is improvement. It doesn’t need to be any sort of drastic jump from year to year, but a constant increase in production suffices for my criteria.
Shazier fulfills this tremendously. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, he posted 58 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and three sacks; in 2012, he improved emphatically, posting 115 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and five sacks (nonetheless, in one game fewer because of Ohio State’s bowl ban); in 2013, the AP first-team All-American honoree posted 144 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and seven tackles.
When I watched tape of Shazier, I wanted to focus on the games that had similar and contrasting playing styles. In the Buckeyes’ matchup against Wisconsin, a team largely known for pounding the run game time after time, Shazier was destructive in stopping the Badgers on the ground.
First and foremost, he flew to the football and covered the sidelines well. Most notably, on a play from Wisconsin’s own 9-yard line with just nine minutes left in the first quarter, he was on the strong side of the tight end and flew to the opposite left-guard gap to meet Melvin Gordon two yards in the backfield.
Secondly, to offset the pressure on Gordon and James White, Joel Stave executed a handful of play-action fakes, but Shazier was barely fooled on countless occasions. More often than not, he instantly dropped back into pass coverage, and mainly covered the slant pass or short post. On one particular instance, while the play was on the other side of the field, he still managed to be one of many to chase the speedy Jared Abbrederis out of bounds on a 40-yard plus completion. That can’t-quit mentality and a nose for a football are hot commodities to land one on an NFL squad.
In the 2014 Orange Bowl against Clemson, in an offense that yielded a potent spread attack led by Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins, Shazier was isolated more in space, instead of between the tackles, and his tackling technique was put to the wayside by the much speedier wide receivers.
That was his biggest downfall on tape — he overran the play way too frequently. His blazing speed, as evident in both games studied on tape, almost hurts him in some situations. Nevertheless, his athleticism is too outstanding not to identify it as elite, and the Packers would be foolish not to take a hard look at the prospect of having another Ohio State linebacker.