Ever since Desmond Bishop's hamstring detonated in the preseason of 2012, the Packers inside linebackers have lacked much of an athletic presence. Sure, A.J. Hawk is durable and consistent. Brad Jones has been solid (when healthy) and Jamari Lattimore has shown flashes of potential. Here's the thing though, none of those guys are Ryan Shazier. Aside from having a name that almost sounds like ‘razor' (which is reason enough to draft him*) the Ohio State linebacker is one of the most athletic, physically gifted players in this year's draft.
* I should not be a General Manager
What makes him so special?
If you've ever wondered what the human equivalent of the Kool Aid man busting through a living room wall looks like, just watch Shazier explode through an offensive line. Here he is against Wisconsin last year darting into the backfield and meeting Melvin Gordon before Gordon can even process just how screwed he is. It's not only an impressive play athletically, but it shows off Shazier's instincts and ability to diagnose a play - one of the few knocks on him.
Sweet. What's up with his eyebrows?
Technically Shazier has alopecia, but let's just pretend his hair flies off every time he runs because if there's one defining characteristic of Ryan Shazier - it's speed. Lots of it. His game tape shows it, but if there were any remaining questions, Shazier pretty much obliterated them by running a 4.36 40 at Ohio State's pro day. That's enough speed to arouse Al Davis' corpse.
That was uncalled for.
Sorry. I guess what I'm trying to say is, Ryan Shazier is just really freaking fast and that's something the Packers could use in the middle of the field. Remember last year when Colin Kaepernick scampered away from (an albeit banged up) Andy Mulumba to seal the NFC Wild Card game? That might not happen with Ryan Shazier chasing you down. And Shazier's speed isn't just limited to a straight line. He recorded a 6.91 3-cone drill during this year's combine along with a 4.21 short shuttle, meaning he's got the quickness and agility to drop into coverage and stay with wide receivers or tight ends.
He looks kinda small.
It's true, Shazier isn't the biggest linebacker on the planet but he actually weighed in at 237 pounds during his pro day. For comparison, Patrick Willis is listed at 6'1 (same as Shazier) and 240 lbs. The important thing to remember is that Shazier can probably put on another 5-7 lbs. and still be blindingly fast. A good, NFL-quality training program combined with simply filling out as he gets older should give Shazier a little more bulk to throw around.
Ok, he's athletic. But can he play?
Very much so. Say what you want about how OSU linebackers have fared in the NFL, but based solely on college production, Shazier is right up there with the best in school history. He finished his career with 44 tackles for loss, 9 forced fumbles, 15.5 sacks, and added a first-team All American and Butkus Award finalist to his resume this past season. But what might be the best example of Shazier's play was a four-game rampage he went on toward the end of last season. Sure, it was against some putrid teams (Michigan State not withstanding) but regardless, the numbers he put up looked like a stat line in Madden:
- 16 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss vs. Illinois
- 20 total tackles, five tackles for loss vs. Indiana
- 14 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss vs. Michigan
- 12 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss vs. Michigan State.
That's crazy. We should draft this guy.
Well, not so fast. Shazier can be a whirlwind of destruction, but there's another linebacker who might be available at #21 from Alabama named C.J. Mosley. He's not the superfreak athlete that Shazier is (though he's not far off) but he's highly refined and extremely instinctual. That's not to say Shazier is a project, but when it comes to overall awareness and anticipation, he's a tad raw when compared with Mosley. Plus, Mosley actually played inside linebacker in college, while Shazier was a weak-side backer. Since the Packers are still among the top teams in the league, they may opt to look past Shazier's promise in favor of someone like Mosley who could help from day one.
Well that's kind of a bummer.
True. Let's talk more about how awesome Ryan Shazier is! Scheme-wise, Shazier fits what the Packers want from their defensive players. He's got the speed to drop back into coverage, the explosiveness to disrupt the backfield, and he rarely misses tackles, something the Packers could have used last season. He also brings another thing their defense could use - leadership. A consummate team-first player, Shazier took over as the Buckeyes heart and soul this past season after senior safety Christian Bryant went down for the year. He even wore Bryant's No. 2 jersey for the rest of the season as a tribute. It was just one of the many super cool things Shazier did for his teammates, leading Urban Meyer to say Shazier "has a heart of gold." Then again, so does Ted Bundy compared to Meyer, so take that for what it's worth.
What's he look like in action?
Pretty damn good. There were surprisingly few highlight clips available, but this one shows a good mix of what makes Shazier such an intriguing prospect. Notice at 53 seconds, the human-being-shot-from-a-cannon routine he pulls in blitzing against Penn State. Or the disintegration of Cal's quarterback at 1:20. Shazier is consistently flying all over the field, making plays and laying waste to anyone with the ball. Whether the Packers choose to draft him remains to be seen, but if you ask me, Ryan Shazier would look mighty good in green and gold.