First reported by Sports Illustrated and later confirmed by Ohio State, the Buckeyes will lose a defensive leader to the 2014 NFL draft.
The SI report cited a source that said junior linebacker Ryan Shazier would declare for the draft, but classmates Braxton Miller and tight end Jeff Heuerman would return for their senior seasons.
A story by Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch later confirmed Shazier's departure, as eventually did an OSU spokesperson.
“Playing in the NFL is something that I have been dreaming about since my days in pee-wee football,” Shazier said in an OSU release. “I just feel that now is the perfect time for me.”
Projected by multiple media mock drafts to be a first round selection, Shazier received a second round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board after submitting a request for feedback from the professional ranks. The 6-3, 230-pounder was the Buckeyes’ leading tackler in each of the past two seasons, amassing 144 tackles, 23.5 of which came for a loss and seven sacks en route to being named a first-team All-American in 2013.
For his career, Shazier tallied 314 tackles, 44.5 of which came for a loss and 15 sacks. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native leaves Ohio State ranking 14th in career tackles and sixth in tackles for loss.
A first-team All-Big Ten linebacker in 2012 and 2013, Shazier was a finalist for this past season’s Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Despite his status as a junior, Shazier served as a captain for the Buckeyes in 2013 and was one of the undisputed leaders in the OSU locker room.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. currently ranks Shazier as the 16th draft eligible player in the upcoming draft, while CBS Sports slots him at 23rd. An NFL scout who spoke to BuckeyeSports.com on the condition of anonymity doubted Shazier’s status as a first round pick, expressing concern with both his size and the number of linebackers who are traditionally selected in the first round.
The first day of the NFL draft is slated for May 8.
From an Ohio State standpoint, Shazier’s departure is a hit to a Buckeyes linebacking corps that already lacked depth. Expected to return at linebacker for Ohio State in the 2014 season is senior-to-be Curtis Grant, junior Joshua Perry, sophomore Trey Johnson, sophomore Darron Lee, and redshirt freshman Mike Mitchell. Urban Meyer also has a quartet of four-star linebackers committed to his 2014 recruiting class in Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County’s Raekwon McMillan, Cleveland St. Ignatius’ Kyle Berger, Akron St. Vincent-St. Vincent Mary’s Dante Booker, and Cincinnati Moeller’s Sam Hubbard.
The good news for the Buckeyes is the return of Miller and Heuerman, reported by SI but not confirmed in the Dispatch report or Ohio State. Miller, two-time winner of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the Big Ten's best player, threw 24 touchdown passes this season despite missing significant time because of a knee injury. Heuerman caught 26 passes, including four touchdowns, this fall.