After the Denver Broncos went out and picked up Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and DeMarcus Ware in free agency, I have had plenty of time to decide what I think the team’s next step needs to be in getting this team back to the Super Bowl this season.
My opinion, and I don’t think it’s too far off of what some other Broncos fans are thinking, is that the team’s biggest remaining needs are at inside linebacker and offensive guard, and I think the Broncos have a chance to significantly upgrade in both areas yet through the draft.
I’m just going to cut the fluff and get right to it. I think the Broncos’ top target in the draft should be Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, and I don’t think it should be all that close.
Now, does this mean I’m not open to other players for the Broncos’ top selection? Absolutely not, but if they are faced with an opportunity to take the former Buckeye, I think it would be most wise to pull that trigger. Here’s why.
Number one, Shazier is a leader on and off the field. In reading about him from varying major media publications, I’ve learned that Shazier has received a major vote of confidence from his coaches for his work habits and leadership qualities as a player. Shazier reportedly photographs every single one of his meals and sends it to his nutritionist to evaluate if he’s putting in the best things for his body.
This guy doesn’t mess around.
The fruits of not messing around include a shredded 6’1″ 237 pound frame, one that allowed Shazier to run a reported 4.37 second 40-yard dash at the Ohio State pro day, throw up 25 reps of 225 on the bench at the Scouting Combine, as well as post a 42-inch vertical jump, 130-inch broad jump, and a 6.91 second three-cone drill time.
His athletic measurables are off the charts. His production? Also off the charts.
In 2013, Shazier was a first-team All-American with 144 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss (what?!), and 7.5 sacks to go along with four forced fumbles.
Shazier is known for his ability to play sideline to sideline, and after coming to Ohio State as a defensive end, he has a great natural bend around the edge and offers versatility in that regard on third down.
Adding this kind of athlete and rangy playmaker who can pile up tackles from the inside linebacker position would be incredibly ideal for the Broncos. This is a guy that flies to the ball, can play all three downs, and can give you multiple defensive weapons in one package.
Just looking at the Broncos’ defensive personnel, I think adding Shazier adds an element, even as a rookie, that would force teams to attack the Broncos in a completely different way. First of all, the Broncos had the NFL’s third best run defense last year according to Pro Football Focus, and that doesn’t figure to get worse with players like Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson returning to the lineup, as well as Von Miller who is a very good playmaker in the run game in his own regard.
Most draft sites will rank Shazier as an outside linebacker, and rightfully so. It’s the position he’s excelled at with Ohio State the past three years, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play inside in the NFL. Some scouts have compared his game to that of Lavonte David, and think he’s ideally suited to that playmaker role in the NFL as well. I don’t disagree with that but the Broncos’ need is on the inside, and Shazier could fill that as well.
At 6’1″ 237 pounds, he actually has more girth (and speed, for that matter) than former rookie of the year and maybe the best 4-3 non-pass rushing linebacker in the NFL–Luke Kuechly.
The great thing is, the Broncos have the freedom with the personnel on their roster to plan for some intriguing groupings already, and adding Shazier would amplify that greatly.
With DeMarcus Ware’s history in the 3-4 defense and his success standing up, the Broncos have the perfect front seven right now to run a hybrid defensive look whenever they want, and they have the speed at linebacker to compensate in coverage for whatever offenses throw at them.
With Shazier, the Broncos could put him at ILB in their base look with Danny Trevathan at WLB and Von Miller at SLB, or they could rotate Von down a two-point stance in pass rush situations and put Shazier in a position to either rush the passer or blanket a tight end.
Did I mention Shazier can rush the QB also?
Some scouts theorize his fit in the NFL is as an edge rusher in a 3-4 with his natural bend and obvious gifting of speed.
I know I’m gushing over this guy, but I think he’s an ideal fit for the Broncos. His struggles include fighting off blocks and in the NFL, that could be a problem as an inside linebacker but lucky for him, the Broncos have an extremely potent DT rotation especially in the run stuffing department.
Bottom line: I feel like Shazier boasts such a versatile skill set and can help the Broncos’ defense get to that next level. I feel like he will be a tackling machine in the NFL with the ability to contribute on all four downs and be effective in every area because of his unique athletic ability.
People are talking about this guy as a bottom of round one, early round two player, and I think if the Broncos passed him up at 31 it’d be a tough pill for me to swallow.