To compete in the NFC West, depth in the linebacking corps is must.
The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks boast a talented unit with Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin (plays both DE and LB).
The San Francisco 49ers, who have made three straight trips to the NFC Championship Games, also have themselves quite a group at the position, including Pro Bowlers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith (plays both DE and LB).
Like the beasts of the division, the Arizona Cardinals aren’t lacking in the linebacker department, as Daryl Washington, John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy each put together impressive campaigns in 2013 — a big reason why Todd Bowles’ defense lead the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game.
But with Karlos Dansby’s departure to Cleveland, Kevin Minter’s inexperience and Washington’s potential absence early in 2014, the organization might look to bulk up its core in the first round of next week’s NFL Draft.
And a potential prospect who could do just that for Arizona is Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier, who led the Buckeyes in tackles during both the 2012 and 2013 seasons — doing so from both the outside and inside linebacker positions.
That versatility has certainly piqued the interest of Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.
“Honestly, I think inside or out,” Keim said Thursday when asked what position Shazier will likely play in the NFL. “He has a skill set where he can be in on sub packages and third downs and play off the edge. He has a natural rush ability or play inside. His production speaks for itself, 143 tackles and six sacks. It’s amazing.”
While his career numbers in Columbus speak to a highly-productive collegiate player, Shazier’s physical measurements have some concerned about whether his skill set will translate to the next level.
Keim, however, didn’t seem too worried about the Ohio State product’s height or weight — comparing him to the aforementioned Willis.
“There’s been some talk about him being a little undersized, but you see he was 6-foot-1, 238 at the combine,” said Keim. “Patrick Willis when he came out was 6-foot-1 and 242. So really, the differences in size are very minimal. He’s bigger than the other kid in San Francisco, [NaVorro] Bowman. Size is not an issue with Ryan Shazier.”