In the world of football, Ryan Shazier is a speed merchant. The two-time All-American from Ohio State uses his god-given talent to knife his way between blockers and make more plays than most linebackers could only dream of.
Because of this innate ability, Shazier knows is best fit in the NFL is probably as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, but he's not about to close the door on other opportunities that come his way.
"My speed is what I’m known for," said Shazier at the NFL Combine. "But I can also play inside ‘backer and do everything they want me to do."
That's good news as it relates to the Green Bay Packers, a team that is blurring the lines between 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts after the offseason addition of Julius Peppers in free agency.
Indications are that the Packers will remain a 3-4 team with B.J. Raji manning the nose tackle but will employ some new-look, four-man fronts with Peppers and others playing a hybrid end/linebacker "Elephant" position, particularly when they're in their nickel and dime subpackage looks.
A majority of the time, however, it would appear as if the Packers plan to keep two inside linebackers on the field, as they did most of last season with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones as the preferred starters.
Hawk had one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2013, but Jones played in just 12 games because of a variety of injuries and only had a moderate impact. It stands to reason the Packers could use an upgrade at the position if the team has any designs on improving upon their ranking of 25th in the NFL in total defense last season, allowing an average of 372.3 yards per game.
With the 21st selection in the first round, one option to improve the defensive side of the football would be by selecting Shazier, should he be available, despite the somewhat less than ideal fit as an inside linebacker.
At 6' 1" and 237 lbs., Shazier is perhaps slightly undersized, but ask him who his favorite linebacker in the NFL is, and he'll tell you Patrick Willis. After letting that sink in, suddenly fears about Shazier's size begin to dissolve.
Willis is 6' 1" and 240 lbs., the same height and just three pounds more than Shazier. If Willis can be a seven-time Pro Bowler as an inside linebacker in the San Francisco 49ers 3-4 defense at that size, it isn't a stretch to think Shazier could succeed in a similar role.
"At the end of last season, I was about 228," said Shazier. "I’m about 237 now. 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."
The added weight didn't appear to slow Shazier at his pro day workout at Ohio State, where he clocked in as low as 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com.
One concern with Shazier has been a troublesome left hamstring that prevented him from running the 40 at the NFL Combine and was aggravated after only one attempt in the 40 at his pro day. As Brandt notes, Shazier suffered only a strain and not a pull as initially feared.
The hamstring certainly didn't seem to hinder Shazier at the Combine where he participated in the vertical jump and leaped 42 inches, the highest among more than 300 players invited, regardless of position. His 130-inch broad jump was also the best among linebackers.
Considering the explosiveness that Shazier displays in his jumping ability, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he was able to make 40.5 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons at Ohio State, a period in which the Buckeyes went 24-2.
During his 2013 season as a junior, Shazier made144 total tackles, seven sacks and four forced fumbles before declaring for the NFL Draft.
The Packers tend to draft players with exceedingly few character risks in the first round under general manager Ted Thompson, and Shazier would seem to fit that same mold.
The son of the team chaplain of the Miami Dolphins tries to live his life in a way that isn't at odds with his given profession.
"I’m a person of integrity and faith, and I’m a disciplined player and person," said Shazier. "I try to live by those three rules in life. I want to show that to (teams)—off the field and on the field."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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