The NFL Scouting Combine and pro day workouts of college players are highly publicized events with the goal being a pro prospect showing his individual athletic skills, leaving the observer to measure how they equate to that player's transition to the pro game as well as providing support to what the evaluator saw on film of that player.
One of the biggest traits they measure at those workouts is speed. The 40-yard-dash is the main event to the undercarded events like the bench press or the shuttle drill.
They can't put a speed gun on a player on the field and measure how fast he's going in any kind of useful way.
If they could, they'd see Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier as one of the fastest in-game players in the nation.
His speed is as obvious as Ohio State's red home jerseys, and it stands out even more because of his outstanding technique and instinct for the position.
His issue is size.
If he weighed around 240 pounds, not the 225 he's listed at, he'd easily be a mid-first round pick. Size is also important for a middle or inside linebacker - having to take on reaching guards while giving up maybe 100 pounds is difficult. But the passing trend in the NFL is requiring linebackers to be faster than big. That will create a very unique market for players like Shazier, who have a similar build and background as Steeles linebacker Sean Spence.
Many felt Spence could fill something of a hybrid safety/linebacker role in sub packages for the Steelers. A devastating knee injury has kept him off the field over the last two seasons, and his future is still up in the air. Shazier looks like another version of that, perhaps better suited for an outside linebacker position in a 4-3 alignment, but still rangy and smart enough to handle a wide range of duties inside in a 3-4.
Watching the Buckeyes' game against Wisconsin this season, Shazier's technique, discipline and explosive speed is apparent.
Shazier is lined up on the weak side, two yards outside the hash, as Wisconsin runs away from him in a power scheme. At the snap, he reads run, but keeps his shoulders squared toward the runner, holding down his assignment of being in position to prevent any cutback. As soon as he sees the ball carrier break up field, he accelerates and is able to cover roughly 26 yards in about six strides to make the tackle - reaching him before any other player despite being so far away.
That's last-safety angle range from a front seven player.
That's not all he can do, either.
He reads a zone run, keeps his shoulders square to the line and eyes on the ball carrier, and explodes through the seam where the wash of the line was supposed to envelope him and cut off his pursuit. He's attacking downhill before the ball carrier has the handoff, flowing perfectly off his lineman in order to make the tackle-for-loss. He had 22.5 tackles-for-loss in 2013.
His quick-twitch explosion is what's likely to garner him the most attention, should he declare for the draft. That is best demonstrated on a sudden pass rush he had against Wisconsin.
Shazier has coverage of the running back out of the backfield. He eyes him up, but the second the running back turns his shoulders in, showing he's setting up to become an outlet receiver, Shazier recognizes he has a straight lane to the passer, and bursts through that seam, putting a big hit on the quarterback and nearly earning a sack.
He covered about 6.5 yards in 3.5 strides, and if the quarterback was a yard higher in the pocket, he would have been sacked.
A player can bulk up, but he can't be taught that kind of explosion.