A two-time All-Big Ten selection who on Wednesday was named a 2013 All-American by USA Today, it’d be tough to question the productivity of Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. And while the junior has one year of eligibility remaining after the upcoming Orange Bowl, many expect him to make the jump to the NFL, where at least one scout believes that he could learn that the there’s big difference between college and professional football.
“I’m just not sure about his pro prospects,” said an NFL scout who spoke to BuckeyeSports.com on the condition of anonymity. “He’s definitely going to be in the NFL next year. It’s just, how productive is he going to be? To think that he’ll have the numbers that he has now I think is a major stretch.”
Since arriving in Columbus in 2011 at a mere 195 pounds, size has always seemed to be a question for Shazier, who is now listed at 222 pounds by OSU. By comparison, most traditional outside linebackers in the NFL weigh between 240 and 250 pounds, a trend that’s seemingly shifting heavier rather than lighter.
Despite being slim by even college standards, Shazier has posted consecutive 100-tackle seasons in the past two years, racking up an astonishing 22 tackles for a loss and seven sacks this past season. The scout, however, remains skeptical that he’ll be able to maintain that productivity at the next level, given his slimmer physique.
“The problem with him is when you get on the field level and look at him, he’s not even as big as the corner, (Doran) Grant, as far as thickness,” he said. “You can’t say enough about how productive the kid is and his ability to read, dissect, make tackles, all the rest. His issue is going to be being able to find a scheme that allows somebody who’s 215, 220 pounds to be able to play, because it doesn’t matter how quick you are.
“To put it in perspective, rookies in the draft are benching his body weight 35 times at the combine. He’s gonna struggle, I think, against NFL linemen.”
That’s not to say that there’s not a place for Shazier at the professional level. Sure, it would have to be the right scheme and could take some creativity, but the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native’s instincts and ability aren’t common and could help make up for his physical shortcomings.
“He’ll need to go to a place like a 4-3 defense where he can play Will, where he’s got defensive linemen covering him up and he can basically turn into The Waterboy linebacker where he’s just, ‘Find ball, get ball’ and he doesn’t have to worry about blocking,” the scout said. “There’s enough defensive coordinators who smart guys, so they can find ways to make people productive and there’s very few guys who have had as productive of a career as he’s had. It’s just right now, he doesn’t have the size, shape, and strength that you see in a typical NFL linebacker.”
Despite his questions about how he’ll pan out, the NFL scout remains confident the Shazier will forego his senior season to get a head start on his professional career. With little left to prove in Columbus, the one thing that could boost Shazier’s stock in the draft isn’t something that he’d necessarily gain with another year on a college campus.
“He’s going to be an enigma just because he’s a safety playing linebacker. So what can a team do with that?” the scout rhetorically asked. “And then the question that comes off of that is say he comes back. A year from now, how much is his body going to change? Is he just genetically predisposed to being that size? And if so, what does that mean to his decision to stay or go?”
Should Shazier enter the draft -- as most expect him to -- opinions on where he’ll be selected vary. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists the Sunshine State product as the No. 15 overall draft eligible player in 2014, while CBS Sports has him projected to go between picks 19 and 23.
For what it’s worth, at least one NFL scout doesn’t see him going quite that high, due to a combination of questions about Shazier and a lack of demand for linebackers in the draft.
“That’s a tough position to be a first round pick in general. You just look at the other guys around the country and what they’re able to do,” the scout said. “There’s only 32 spots and by the time you take six or seven linemen, four or five quarterbacks are gonna go, a couple of corners, the spots start getting eaten up in a hurry. It’s hard to take a guy that’s a question at that point.
“Put it this way, if you had a first round pick and you had a choice between him or (Buffalo outside linebacker) Khalil Mack, who’s your pick? That kind of answers that there. There may only be four or five teams who are looking for his position that are in the first round, and from there, you’ve got to decide is he one of the four or five top guys at what he does, and I think that would be a stretch as well. I don’t know. Crazier things have happened in the draft, but I think it’s a major stretch to say that he’d be a sure-fire first round pick.”