Cowboys 2014 Draft Targets: Ohio State OLB Ryan Shazier

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we'll look at Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier.

A high school defensive end, Ryan Shazier initially committed to Florida but then transferred after Urban Meyer left Gainesville. After starting the Buckeye's final three games his freshman year, Shazier had extremely productive sophomore and junior campaigns, registering 115 or more tackles each year, with a staggering 44.5 for loss (eighth in school history). For his efforts, Shazier was named a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten pick (in both 2012-13), as well as a First-team All-American selection and Butkus Award finalist in 2013.

Shazier is undersized (6'2", 230) but compensates for a lack of size with lightning acceleration and impressive speed off the edge, both as a pass rusher and run defender, where the above TFL numbers show that he was a highly disruptive player. Moreover, he's "scheme diverse," having played both inside and outside linebacker for the Buckeyes. Shazier's versatile skill-set is evident on tape; thanks to the thoroughly excellent fellows at Draft Breakdown, you can watch cut-ups of as many as thirteen - count 'em, thirteen! - of his games. If you're wondering which ones to focus on, try out his 20-tackle effort against Wisconsin in 2013 and his 8-tackle, 2-sack, one pick-six performance at Penn State in 2012.

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What do our panelists think of Shazier after watching these and other of his games? Lets poll them, why don't we...

Dane Brugler (CBSSports.com): 3rd-ranked OLB; 29th overall

Strengths: Rangy athlete with terrific closing acceleration and burst. Explosive first step as a blitzer to force the QB from his spot. Very good bend off the edge with momentum to fight through blocks and disrupt the pocket. Flexible ankles and flattens easily. Uses his length well at the point of attack with good take-on strength to deliver a pop, filling hard vs. the run. Eyes are always elevated with good ball vision and anticipation. Breaks down well on the move and gets low, showing clear improvement with his tackling technique. Smart and puts himself in correct position to make plays. Sniffs out the ball and almost always finishes when he's in the area. Never quits working to the ball and relentless in pursuit. Team leader and uplifting teammate with strong personal and football character. Versatile skill-set to drop in coverage, blitz and cover both sidelines. Very productive career with back-to-back seasons with 115-plus tackles, including a conference-best 143 stops in 2013.

Weaknesses: Lean frame and lacks elite bulk. Doesn't have the body type to get too much bigger. Needs to continue to get stronger to better shed at the point of attack. Too easily engulfed when attacking the line of scrimmage. Sometimes content throwing his shoulder and not wrapping up. Overaggressive at times in coverage and needs patient and alert. Will lose track of his assignment in man. Needs to stay disciplined and tidy up his timing to avoid late hits and unnecessary flags. Needs to keep his composure and keep his emotions in check. History of minor injuries that have caused him to miss playing time.

Compares To: Lavonte David, Buccaneers - While he's not quite as refined or tough as David, Shazier has a similar body type and movement skills to cover a large area and be a ultra-productive tackler at the next level.

Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 3rd-ranked OLB; 30th overall

Instincts/ Recognition: Usually reads keys quickly and avoids false steps, but still gambles and gets caught peeking a bit too often. Will need to be more disciplined with key & diagnose in NFL. Overall instincts are good but not elite (see: Lavonte David, Luke Kuechley, Sean Lee). He's a natural playmaker and has a nose for the ball. Diagnoses screens early. But can be a quarter-count late reacting to play-action, misdirection and draws.

Take-on Skills: Flashes ability to sink and uncoil on offensive linemen. Presses blocks and makes it tough to lock on. Also has become savvier in this department. Is learning when to give up leverage in order to disengage and pursue. However, size is an issue. Lacks adequate lower-body strength and mass at this point. Gets swallowed up by offensive linemen when forced to play in phone booth. Compensates by using quick hands and feet to slip blocks in tight quarters.

Range vs. Run: Sideline-to-sideline player that can stalk and chase backs down from behind. Good balance and gets though traffic quickly. Good motor. Can clean up angles. Gets caught running under blocks that he needs to fight over.

Tackling: Closes very quickly and flashes ability to deliver big hit. Much improved angles and instincts in pursuit in 2013. Highly productive tackler -- finished strong down the stretch: 71 tackles in final five games. Still falls off a few too many tackles. Can wrap ankles instead of legs and ball carrier slips out of grasp at times.

Third Down Capabilities: Quick and fluid for the position. Has above average balance. Recognition skills continue to improve in coverage. Can run with most backs and tight ends, though bigger tight ends can box him out at times. Has a tendency to get overly physical in coverage. Flashes as a pass rusher. Struggles to counter when reached, but has improved instincts to accompany very good initial burst, violent hands and excellent closing speed to QB.

Intangibles: Pronounced SHAY-zeer. Changed jersey No. 10 for No. 2 in 2013 (from Northwestern game on) to honor injured teammate Christian Bryant. De-committed from Florida when head coach Urban Meyer resigned in 2010 and enrolled at Ohio State in January of 2011. Well-liked and respected by coaches and teammates. Not a vocal leader.

Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 3rd-ranked OLB; 18th overall

Junior entry. Two-year starter. A tall rangy inside linebacker who projects to the outside because of his lack of bulk. Some ball clubs may like his skill set inside however. The long-armed blitzer is disruptive, quick, and always around the ball. He led the Buckeyes with 143 total tackles. He also collected 22.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, and had 4 forced fumbles. Explosive when moving downhill making contact on a running back. Plays with a competitive spirit. Very willing to initiate contact with a ball carrier. Matches his opponents' game day intensity. Stays on his feet when shedding a block. A knee bender who protects his legs from cut blocks. Good functional flexibility to take on blockers. Very good speed and range to be productive on outside runs. Has a burst to finish off plays.

Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 3rd-ranked OLB; no overall grade

Strengths: Highly productive, disruptive playmaker vs. the run and pass. Shoots gaps and plays behind the line of scrimmage (compiled 39.5 TFL the last two seasons). Agile to slip blocks. Quick, strong hands to shed. Knifes gaps and flows very well laterally. Striking tackler -- uncoils on contact. Excellent speed and range -- opens up his stride in space and really covers ground. Bends naturally. Changes direction and accelerates with ease. Explosive first step as a pass rusher -- shows the ability to dip, bend and run the arc low to the ground. Ample athleticism and flexibility to mark backs and tight ends. Four-down utility. Arrow is pointing up.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size and bulk. Still developing eyes and instincts -- will diagnose and trigger more quickly down the road. Gets caught in traffic or engulfed by larger blockers when he hesitates to step downhill. Prone to overaggressiveness -- occasionally overruns plays or loses cutback contain. Could stand to improve his eyes, awareness, anticipation and reactions as a zone defender. Took some time to acclimate before making an impact.

Draft Projection: Round 1

Bottom Line: The Big Ten's leading tackler, Shazier flies around the field and his unique athletic ability stands out. Offers a tremendous combination of speed, tackling and coverage skills to become a playmaker as a run-and-hit 4-3 Will or perhaps a 3-4 weakside 'backer if protected by a block-occupying nose tackle. Value is increased by the fact that he will not have to come off the field.

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Our panelists are very consistent - all see Shazier as the 3rd-rated OLB - and situate him right where we have understood him to belong: in the last 10-15 picks of the first round. And they'll get no push-back from me; with his speed, coverage skills and playmaking ability, he's a prototype 'backer for the Kiffinelli system. I'll happily put him in round one on my "little board."

Speaking of prototypes: this time last year, with the Cowboys returning to a 4-3 defense, I watched their invite list (and then, once it came out, their draft board) closely, in an attempt to divine the new defensive prototypes. All the linebackers on their board last year were in the 230-240 pound range and possessed great athleticism (more quickness and change of direction than straight-line speed) for the position. Given those criteria, Shazier can be seen as an optimal Cowboys defensive prototype; he is to their ideal linebacker what a healthy Dominique Easley is to their ideal three-technique. I don't think the Cowboys would select him at pick #16. But if they can engineer a first-round trade down, he'll certainly be in the conversation. And, if they were to pick him at, say, 26, I'd bet we'd soon be thrilled with the speed he brings to the Dallas defense.

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Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Shazier, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the former Buckeye to add to what you already know.

Tomorrow: Florida State cornerback/ safety Lamarcus Joyner.

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