Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Shazier would lead the team in tackles both seasons. He set the school record and ranks tied for 10th in Big Ten Conference history, as the hard-hitting tackler caused nine fumbles, including four as a junior (all four set up OSU touchdown drives). With 315 tackles to his credit, including delivering a league-best 22.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2013 (third-best in a season at OSU and ranked sixth in the nation last year), it was his lights-out performance during the second half of his junior year that thrust Shazier into the draft's elite prospect pool.
In his last seven games, Shazier reached double-digit tackle performance levels five times, including a career-best 20 stops vs. Indiana that included five hits behind the line of scrimmage. During that span, he registered 88 of his season total of 143 tackles. Among his 58 solo stops were 15.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, six of them for sacks, along with causing two fumbles and breaking up a trio of third-down pass attempts.
Shazier has heard it all from draft experts to scouts — too "light in the pants," lacks ideal size, looks like a cornerback and not a linebacker, does not have the strength to take on bigger blockers. Well, the pastor's son has proven them all wrong, as he is seeing most of those doubters starting to jump on his draft "bandwagon" as decision day for teams is about to commence.
The Florida product takes it all in as constructive criticism. If you ask him, Shazier will tell you that he is his own worst critic, anyway. Still, growing up in the Sunshine State, he patterned his style of play after another linebacker who heard similar critics tout his deficiencies while at Florida State — former Tampa Bay great Derrick Brooks. In fact, the man who eventually replaced Brooks as the heart and soul of the Bucs' defense, Lavonte David, is built along the same lines as Shazier and Brooks.
Since becoming a full-time starter for a major powerhouse that regularly faces top-level offenses in the Big Ten Conference, all Shazier has done is record back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons, averaging 9.92 stops per game. Unlike some linebackers that are regarded as "pile jumpers," padding their statistics with assisted tackles, his 208 solo stops rank sixth in school history, with all of the five players ahead of him having one additional season as a Buckeye under their belt.
Among active NCAA major-college players, Shazier ranks third with an average of 5.36 solo tackles per game (increases to 6.58 per game during his time as a starter). His 208 solo tackles rank seventh within that group and he is ninth with 40 solo tackles behind the line of scrimmage. His nine forced fumbles are eighth nationally, as that figure set the school all-time record and rank 10th in league history.
Shazier admits that his maturity and workman-like approach to the game of football was something instilled in his as a youth by his father. The two are extremely close, and the player acknowledges that, "I call my dad almost every day, because he can help me deal with pretty much anything."
In addition to being a mentor to his son, Vernon Shazier is pastor at Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a team chaplain for the Miami Dolphins and a motivational speaker. A former football coach, he has made sure to be there for his sons, including Ryan's younger brother, Vernon. If he can't be there physically, then the phone will have to do.
"I'm really proud of Ryan, and it makes me feel good as a father for how often he consults with me and borrows wisdom," Vernon said. "We sometimes talk two, three times a day."
The "things" Vernon Shazier spoke of fall roughly into three categories: "You're talking about football," he said. "You're talking about academics, and then you're talking about adulthood and the responsibilities that come with that, and also the temptations that come with that."
Shazier finished 14th in school history with 315 total tackles, as he became just the sixth Buckeye to record over 200 solo tackles (208) during a career, joining Chris Spielman (283; 1984-87), Tom Cousineau (259; 1975-78), Marcus Marek (256; 1979-82), Steve Tovar (239; 1989-92) and Mike Doss (228; 1999-2002). His 44.5 tackles-for-loss rank sixth in OSU annals, and his 14 sacks tied for 17th on the school career chart.
Shazier put on a clinic for teams at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, where his vertical jump of 42-inch was not only the best for all linebackers in Indianapolis, but for all 330-plus players attending the event. He also paced the linebacker group with a broad jump measurement of 10'10" and finished fifth in that group with 6.91-second timing in the three-cone drill.
Back on campus for Ohio State's Pro Day on March 7, the junior continued to dazzle NFL decision makers. On his first 40-yard dash performance for the day (left hamstring issues prevented him from competing in the speed drills at the Combine), he was timed at 4.36 seconds. Asked to run again, he clocked in at 4.38 seconds. The best time at the 2014 Combine by a linebacker in the 40-yard dash was 4.51 seconds by Boston College‘s Kevin Pierre-Lewis. Shazier's 4.38-second run would have placed fourth overall among the 2014 Combine's 330 players. The best time for a linebacker at any of the previous 10 Combines was 4.40 seconds by Jon Alston in 2006.
The Ohio State University Buckeyes
Shazier has a compact, solid frame with good upper-body development, broad shoulders (78 5/8-inch wing span), thick chest, good bubble, tapered thighs and thick hamstrings. He shows good straight-line quickness and the arm extension (32 3/8-inches) to shed blocks and has room on his frame to carry another 10 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness. His body is more suited for weak-side linebacker, as he is more likely at maximum growth potential and will not be able to carry the bulk needed to compete on the strong-side vs. the bigger offensive lineman on a steady basis and is better served making plays on the move than when stationed near the line of scrimmage.
Shazier has very good up-field quickness, showing suddenness in his initial move off the ball and gets to top speed in an instant. He has very fluid hips that are evident by the suddenness he shows in his lateral and change-of-direction agility. He is combative in attempts to slip off blocks and string plays wide. He shows valid strength upon initial contact and breaks down well on the move. He is an effective short area pass defender because of his foot speed to stay with most receivers through their routes. He also demonstrates exceptional explosion coming off the ball and generates punishing power behind his hits. Shazier's ease-of-movement in the open field is the result of his outstanding body control, "Gumby-like" flexibility and fine balance, staying at a good pad level and knowing how to shorten the field with his keen knowledge for angle concepts.
Shazier has solid field instincts and vision. He needs minimal reps to retain and has no problems taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He is the type of player equally comfortable keeping plays in front of him vs. the run or turning and covering even the speedier receivers throughout the route's progression into the deep areas of the zone. He has that natural ability to locate the ball when working in zone and man coverage (see 2013 Buffalo and Indiana games) and is not the type that eyeballs the pocket too long to let the receiver get behind him. He takes very good poor angles in pursuit and has the hip snap to neutralize the cutback lanes. He can slip under trash when trying to shoot the gaps and, despite his smaller frame, he has no problems getting combative with his hands to defeat reach and side blocks, as few young players are more to blocking schemes than this Buckeye. Earlier in his career, he played more on adrenalin that on football knowledge, but he has been an exceptional "student of the game," as he sees the play develop instantly and shows no hesitation adjusting to make the hit.
Shazier is the type of athlete that gives full effort until the whistle. He is not the type that will let emotions get the better of him, playing with a good head on his shoulders. He stays focused and plays hard, whether in game action or practices. He handles pressure in the heat of the battle well and will always run to the ball with total effort. He is the type of player who will do whatever the coaches ask. He is a self-motivated athlete who takes well to hard coaching. He is an outstanding worker in practices and a self-made type that pushes himself hard to succeed. While he is always in control of his emotions, he will not hesitate to get vocal in the huddle. His passion for the game is highly evident and the more you review tapes of him in game action and talk to the staff, you realize that this player has quite a bit of "Derrick Brooks" in his game.
Key and Diagnostic Skills
For such a young player, Shazier shows the vision of a veteran reading key and getting into position to make the play. He is not one to get fooled by misdirection and shows good knee bend to take on blockers and escape. He plays under control and even on the rare occurrences when he will get reckless and overpursue the play, he is quick to recover and get right back into the action. He has enough confidence to try and make the sensational hit, but his game plan usually sees him take what the offense has to offer and then stymie it. He attacks the ball with good urgency due to his ability to quickly break down plays in front of him. He is very quick coming off the snap, staying low in his pads while generating quick lateral movements to string the plays wide. He has the natural ability to anticipate the flow of the ball. He is very fluid and quick when dropping back in pass coverage, and is highly effective at reacting and tracking down the ball when working in a crowd at the line of scrimmage (39.5 tackles-for-loss in his last 24 games). With his nose for the ball and fluid hips, he is quick to close and can really make quick adjustments on the field, thanks to being such an instinctive mover and instant reactor (seldom caught out of position).
Playing Strength and Explosion
Shazier has very good weight room strength (25 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press test), and has developed proper hand placement and techniques to separate from blocks. He hits with a good thud, but due to his lack of bulk, he is savvy enough to understand that he needs to avoid the opponent rather than engaging the bigger blockers. He uses his hand punch well in attempts to shed, but when he "short arms," the bigger offensive linemen have good success in engulfing him. He is very combative with his arm swipes, but also knows when he has to try to outfinesse rather than battle his opponent in one-on-one confrontations. He is an avid weight lifter and a product of the team's training room, adding over 25 pounds of bulk since his arrival on campus as a freshman. He has developed more than enough functional strength to take on blocks and shed, and is very alert to low blocks to protect his body from double teams. He has no problems running down hill to fill the rush lane and plays with good leverage when taking on the linemen. With his power and intelligence, he could be a good fit for middle linebacker at the next level, as he has the strength to stack and the power to contain the running game between the tackles, but with his cat-like moves and cornerback like foot speed, he is better playing on the outside, where he can roam from sideline-to-sideline. When he gets his hands on a lead blocker, he can easily leverage, shed and go after the ball (see 2013 California, Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana games).
Shazier has no stiffness in his pass drops and does a good job of moving down the line and redirecting to plays at the Xs. His ability to play in space make him a better fit at weak-side linebacker than on the strong-side. Perhaps because of the team's system, he is used more to keep plays in front of him, but he has recorded enough reps in pass coverage to fully evaluate his ability in that area as being that on par with any of the defensive backs on his team, including All-Big Ten cornerback Brandon Roby. He has the ability to run through and around traffic. He gives good effort in pursuit and consistently plays under control. He can properly read and adjust to the flow of the ball, and despite giving up bulk to the offensive linemen he rarely gets caught in trash, as he works hard to keep leverage on the ball. You can see on film that Shazier has the proper use of hands, balance and agility to thread through traffic, thanks to his exceptional quickness and speed.
Use of Hands
Shazier is not the type that you will see short arm or let blockers to get under his jersey, as he has very active hands to counter. He has a strong punch, but is better served when he can avoid power confrontations with offensive linemen so he can bounce off those blocks and meet the ball-carriers head-on. When he keeps his hands properly extended, he can effectively keep blockers off his feet and get around trash quickly and prevent from being susceptible to the low block. He is not a natural hands catcher (more pass deflections rather than interceptions), but the OSU system calls for him to attack the man, rather than the ball, making it difficult to evaluate his ability as an interceptor. Even when giving up bulk to the bigger blockers, his success as a tackler comes from his strong functional strength and very good hand usage (rip and club moves are the best for any weak-side linebacker in this draft class).
Shazier is a solid wrap-up tackler, showing good mechanics to secure and drag down. He extends his arms properly to stalk and is the type that collides with ball-carriers upon initial contact, showing the strength to shed blocks and stay on the ball. He has that ease of movement getting to the ball when working in space and the leg drive and strength to get the ball-carrier on the ground and impede the opponent's forward momentum. He can deliver a strong thud upon contact and his hits have been known to jar the ball loose from several ball-carriers (see 2013 California, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana games). He swings his arms properly to wrap and can strike opponents with good pop on contact. He is simply one of the more athletic tacklers thanks to above-average strength and outstanding hip snap that allows him to explosively jolt the opponent on impact (see 2013 Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana games).
Most linebackers his size can get engulfed when working in-line, but Shazier does a good job of coming down hill, using his hands to shed when working near the line of scrimmage, which allows him to fill the rush lane. He plays with good leverage taking on blocks coming off the edge. He has the speed and burst to head off ball-carriers along the corners. He is a smart player who stays in control and with his outstanding hip snap he can make plays sideline to sideline. His change-of-direction skills allows him to cover large portions of the field, as he runs to the ball well and has the hand usage to slip off passive blocks. When he closes on the ball, he will usually take good angles. His speed is evident when he simply explodes and accelerates to close. Where Shazier is really head above all other college weak-side linebackers is that he has great agility with balance taking on outside running plays, keeping his feet while fending off cut blocks so he can clear trash and get to the ball in an instant.
Shazier knows how to generate the hip swerve needed in order to drop off deep in the zone. He takes no wasted steps in transition and is explosively quick when trying to turn coming out of his backpedal. He flips his hips properly and plays at a good pad level, as his fluid hip turns let him drop back quickly in zone coverage. He gets pretty good depth in his pass drops and keeps his head on a swivel to locate the ball in flight. In man coverage, he has the quickness to stay on the tight ends and slot backs, using his hands effectively to reroute, but with his retreat quickness, he can handle the speedier receivers challenging the deep areas of the secondary. He has the acceleration to maintain position on the receiver when working underneath. His quick feet allow him to shadow the speedier running backs on screens, as he does a fine job of opening his hips to turn and run (see 2013 Buffalo and Indiana games).
Shazier is like a defensive back when he is used on plays outside the box. He has the fluid hips to come out of his backpedal suddenly and you will never see him take wasted steps or trip over his feet trying to come out of his backpedal. He has a strong concept for angling and is often used in zone coverage, especially when picking up and switching off on receivers. He is also very effective at keeping the play in front of him. He has an explosive break on the ball and keeps his hands properly extended to wrap and secure. He is too smart to be fooled by the tight ends and has had enough playing time in the passing game to evaluate that he has a keen understanding of zone concepts.
Pass Rush and Blitz
Shazier shows the ability to elude blockers on the move, staying low in his pads and maintaining balance coming off the edge to get into the backfield with good urgency. He plays with 110% effort and, if unblocked, he is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback (see 2013 California, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan games). He is better served pressuring the pocket on the move than with his hand down, as he gives up too much bulk to combat offensive tackles on a regular basis playing close to the line of scrimmage. With his burst through the gaps, he could be a nice fit as a middle linebacker, but with his range and sideline-to-sideline quickness, he could become All-Pro material as a weak-side linebacker, as his speed is evident racing over the edge better than it might be when going through the holes. His speed is not his only asset as a blitzer, as he has a wide array of pass rush moves. He can get caught up vs. inside trash due to a lack of ideal size to constantly take on the bigger offensive linemen, but at weak-side linebacker, his acceleration and power lets him get a strong push off the blocker. He is very active with his hands to prevent getting absorbed working inside, and gives good effort as a blitzer, especially when attacking from the back side.
Clay Matthews, Green Bay: Actually, call him Clay Matthews-light. Put Shazier on the opposite side of the Packers All-Pro and immediately the Packers defense joins the elite in the league. While Matthews plays as if his hair is on fire, Shazier plays with controlled mayhem. There are not enough blockers in an opponent's backfield to contain these two, if paired together. Having the Pack take the Buckeye in the first round makes such perfect sense.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.