Former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier is regarded as maybe the most athletically gifted player at his position in the 2014 NFL Draft class. The 6-foot-1, 237-pounder played three seasons in Columbus, and made an impact right away - he recorded 15 tackles in his first start against Penn State in 2011. Expected to be a top-75 pick in this year's draft, Shazier could very well be the same sort of force from day one in the NFL.
After bulking up a bit from his playing weight of 226 pounds, Shazier was one of the stars of the NFL combine in February. His 42-inch vertical jump, 10-foot eight-inch broad jump, and 6.91-second three-cone drill were all among the best at his position. Then at the Ohio State pro day in March he ran what most scouts timed to be a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
But Shazier's athleticism has never been in question - that aspect of his game is quite evident on his game film.
"This is a tall, narrowly built player. Doesn't look the part of a linebacker but when you study him, you come away liking what you see," says NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
As Jeremiah noted, a lot of the downsides to Shazier's game come from his lack of size. At Ohio State he had a tendency to get engulfed by guards and tackles, and he had some inconsistent tackling technique. But now that he has added 10 pounds during the offseason, it might not be such a problem by next season.
"I'm about 237 now," Shazier said. "I like where I'm at right now. Even if I can gain a little more, that would probably help. But I like where I'm at. I feel exactly the same. I have to continue to put it on the right way, not sloppy weight, and I feel I can maintain the speed and power I have."
Shazier has also not shown as much promise in pass coverage as one would expect for being so athletic. Instead, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer used him more as an 'A' or 'B'-gap blitzer, where he flashed tremendous instincts and timing, getting to the quarterback six times as a senior.
"Against the run he's quick to key, flow, and fill for tackles. He's an explosive hitter… Overall this is a dynamic, explosive player. I love the way he blitzes," Jeremiah said.
Shazier has played at inside and outside linebacker, and even took some snaps at defensive end the last two seasons, but is generally seen as a weakside linebacker in the NFL. However, he thinks he could be an asset wherever needed.
"[I am] A run and hit linebacker. I can also go inside and cover good tight ends. I feel I'm a very versatile player. Whatever the coaches want," Shazier said. "My speed is what I'm known for. But I can also play inside 'backer and do everything they want me to do."
Perhaps with another year at Ohio State Shazier might have developed into a top-15 pick, but NFL teams were high enough on him already to warrant the early exit from college.
"I talked it over with the coaches and my parents. I weighed the pros and cons and decided this was the best time to come out. I don't have any serious injuries. I feel I had a successful season. I feel that if I want to become a great player and play with the best, I have to play against the best," Shazier said.
Expected to be a late first or early second round selection, Shazier will be getting that opportunity soon.