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Big Ten Week 8 Draft Watch: Ohio State OLB Ryan Shazier, Illinois OLB Jonathan Brown & Northwestern SB Dan Vitale
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18 Oct 2013 01:42 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Ryan Shazier leads Ohio State with 47 tackles. (Image Source: FrankHyatt.com)

Here’s a look at some of the top NFL Draft prospects in the Big Ten taking the field today:

Player Spotlight: Ohio State OLB Ryan Shazier, JR (3:30 vs. Iowa, ABC/ESPN2)

The Ohio State linebacker can fly. He’s blessed with the fleetness of foot to cover ground and close on the ball carrier in milliseconds. Almost like a running back, Shazier is adept at eluding would-be blockers, he plays hard and appears to have very good instincts, a combination that has allowed him to make eight TFLs this season. A legit three-down linebacker, Shazier doesn’t have to leave the field on passing downs. His athleticism and fluidity make him an ideal candidate in coverage from the linebacker position with the potential to be a high-caliber coverman. However, he is limited in that he will probably have to be a WILL in a 4-3 defense, with some potential as a MIKE. Shazier’s ability to take on blocks will be challenged by Iowa’s offensive line. Better in space, the junior can struggle when engaged with O-linemen at the point of attack. At 230 pounds (maybe), he’s a bit light in the pants and while he leads the Bucks in tackles he doesn’t always wrap up cleanly. If Shazier declares following the 2013 campaign, as most expect him to do, he’ll be a late-first to mid-second round selection.

Sleeper: Illinois OLB Jonathan Brown, SR (8:00 vs. Wisconsin, BTN)

In many ways, Brown is a poor man’s Shazier. He’s undersized, listed at 230 pounds (maybe) and will probably have to play WILL in a 4-3 scheme, but he’s not nearly as fast or as athletic, which is why he is more likely to go on Day 3 of the 2014 NFL Draft. Some believe he may be able to play in the middle but that remains to be seen. Brown leads the Big Ten in tackles (12 per game), which is at least in part because the Illini defense isn’t very good, so they spend too much time on the field and someone has to make the tackles. However, it’s also a testament to his instincts, ability to tackle and battle in the trenches. He plays bigger than his size and isn’t afraid to mix it up and take on blocks winning more battles than you might think. More quick than fast, Brown is capable of invading the offensive backfield to make plays, especially against the run. The senior has flashed some ability in coverage and if he shows scouts that he can handle the duties of a coverman it will do wonders for his value to NFL teams and could bump him up a round or two.

Star of Tomorrow: Northwestern H-back Dan Vitale, SO (12:00 vs. Minnesota, ESPN2)

There are no “Superbacks” in the NFL but that may change in a couple of years after Vitale has used up all his eligibility. He is a talented pass catcher with excellent hands, who can surprise with his ability to stretch the field. Just a true sophomore, Vitale is still raw after playing wide receiver and defensive back in high school. He still has to work on his blocking and learn the nuances of lining up closer to the football, whether he’s at fullback, H-back or tight end. At 235-pounds, he may also need to put on some weight to play at the next level. His potential may not jump out at you but the kid has ability and could work his way into being a pro prospect by his senior campaign, as long as his game continues to grow.

Big Ten Links:

One-On-One With Iowa Linebacker James Morris

Big Ten Week 8 Preview: Michigan & Northwestern Desperate For Wins

Big Ten Week 8 Power Rankings: Michigan Stumbles, Wisconsin Rises to Number Two

Around the Big Ten: Nebraska Still Needs Taylor Martinez, PSU’s C.J. Olaniyan’s Sack Fest & Wisconsin Dominates

College Football Links:

College Football Week 8 Power Rankings: UCLA, South Carolina & Miami Crack the Top 10

NFL Draft Links:

Thursday/Friday Night NFL Draft Watch: UNC TE Eric Ebron, Louisville LB Preston Brown & Miami RB Duke Johnson

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. 

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