At long last, the countdown of the Big Ten’s top players hits the final five. As a reminder, the list is only a reflection of performances during the 2013 season and doesn’t take into account preseason hype or professional futures — though this guy would be well represented by any measure in those three categories.
No. 5: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Previous ranking: No. 4 Making the case for Shazier: The overall defense might have had some issues at times for the Buckeyes, but the work of Shazier was almost enough to make up for it, erasing enough mistakes on his own to drag a somewhat flawed team within a game of competing for the national championship.
Shazier was always going to be leaned on heavily as the only returning starter in the front seven for Ohio State, and he had raised the bar for himself the season before as he stuffed the stat sheet in every conceivable way despite being slowed for half of the season with a groin injury. Not only did he again provide stability and hold up his end of the deal as a leader for his younger teammates, but he also might have even surpassed the high standards for his play as his athleticism and instincts combined to produce more eye-catching numbers.
Shazier led the Big Ten in both tackles and tackles for loss, chipped in six sacks, broke up four passes and also forced four fumbles as he solidified his reputation as a sideline-to-sideline force. His work in the opposing backfield was perhaps the most impressive part of his huge campaign, as coach Urban Meyer labeled him as one of the best blitzers in America and made it a top priority for the Buckeyes to unleash his ability as often as possible.
That effort produced 22.5 tackles for a loss and only sent his professional stock higher, which Shazier decided to cash in on one year early by declaring for the NFL draft. Now his starting spot is the only one on the Ohio State defense that must be filled moving forward as the situation flips around entirely, but that one void will loom large given just how much production Shazier gave to the program during his career — in 2013 in particular.
Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming.
Continue reading this article at ESPN: Big Ten postseason player rankings: No. 5