How long has it been since the Denver Broncos have gotten solid, consistent play from the middle linebacker position?
The Broncos have been on a mission to overhaul their defense this offseason, adding high profile free agents DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. But they haven't been able to address the middle linebacker position. After allowing Wesley Woodyard to leave through free agency, they will almost certainly be looking for someone to fill that position through the upcoming NFL draft.
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier is exactly what they're looking for.
Shazier enjoyed a solid junior season at Ohio State, accounting for 142 tackles and six sacks while helping the team reach the Orange Bowl.
Though he wasn't able to run a 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Shazier impressed with a 4.36 40-yard dash at Ohio State's pro day. That is sure to place him in high regard amongst teams looking for help within their linebacker corps.
|Ryan Shazier Scouting Combine Stats|
|40-yard dash||4.36 seconds (ran at pro day)|
|Bench Press||25 reps|
|Vertical Jump||42.0 inches|
|Broad Jump||10 feet, 8 inches|
|3-Cone Drill||6.91 seconds|
|20-Yard Shuttle||4.21 seconds|
Aside from his speed, Shazier has the athleticism and leadership abilities to become a main cog within the Denver defense for many years to come.
First, he has an incredible motor. Shazier will not give up on a play and he has good tackling ability. He can cover the field from sideline to sideline and make plays.
He is also an effective pass-rusher coming off the edge or right up the gut. Shazier shows good anticipation, making him great in blitz packages.
Finally, the reason why Denver should fall in love with him, is his ability to drop in coverage. The Broncos have seen teams use tight ends to take advantage of middle linebackers like Joe Mays and Keith Brooking over the past few seasons. Shazier would help alleviate that problem.
The Broncos need a linebacker who can stay on the field on third downs, and Shazier is a player who can definitely do that.
At 6'1" and 237 pounds, size is the only major question surrounding Shazier. Is he big enough to stack up at the NFL level, or is he more of an outside linebacker?
If Shazier puts on too much weight, it could diminish his speed. Denver has some big defensive tackles in Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson. If they can create some room by moving blockers in the middle, Shazier would be able to dart in and make plays.
Having his speed and coverage skills on the field would also complement the pass-rushing ability of guys like Ware and Von Miller.
It's because of how he would make the guys around him that much more effective that makes Shazier an excellent choice for the Broncos.
Over the last few seasons, the team has tried Mays, Brooking, Woodyard and Paris Lenon at the middle linebacker spot. It's time they find the guy to fill that role for good.
The team has a defense that could be among the best in the NFL in 2014. The one glaring weakness could be at middle linebacker. The Broncos could find that missing piece in Shazier at the bottom of the first round.