Ohio State football: Ryan Shazier leaning towards returning for senior season

Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier has Buckeye fans wondering if he will stay for his senior season. - Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

As the Buckeyes prepare to face the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl on January 3rd, fans have plenty of questions on their mind, including the decision junior linebacker Ryan Shazier has to make: stay for his senior year or declare for the NFL draft?

There are a handful of Ohio State players who have a decision to make regarding the 2014 NFL draft. Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier headline that group, as both are one game away from finishing their junior seasons. Bradley Roby, a redshirt junior cornerback, has already announced he will declare for the NFL draft and forgo his senior season. Reports have surfaced that Miller has been thinking about staying, but there is always the possibility of him leaving due to his personal financial situations.

Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier is a first-round draft pick according to most draft scouting reports, which should come as no surprise. Shazier has accounted for 133 tackles and six sacks at linebacker for the Buckeyes this season, as well as becoming a leader on the defensive side of the ball. The defense as a whole struggled throughout the season, but Shazier has no doubt been one of the few bright spots for Ohio State. Now with a decision to make about returning for his senior season or declaring for the 2014 NFL draft, things might be looking up for Ohio State's chances of Shazier returning after his interview with the Lantern:

"Right now I'm dead flat in the middle. I don't know what I'm going to do," Shazier said Friday. "If I would say anything I would probably be leaning towards staying."

Shazier is a first team All-Big Ten selection by both the media and coaches, and led the conference in tackles. Shazier was also a finalist for the 2013 Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker. C.J. Mosley of Alabama would end up winning the award, but any of the five finalists could have earned the award. Shazier seems torn about staying or leaving and went on to say more:

"This season's really not playing much of a role in me coming back. It's just the outcome of whether the coaches and everybody say that's what's best for me and my family, what's best for us," Shazier said. "I'm just going to look at the evaluations and whatever we just feel is the best decision ... how much school I have left, what is the best circumstance. I'm just going to look at everything and how that plays out then make my decision."

Shazier has most certainly done his part for this team, and has earned the right to turn pro. Whether or not he will do so remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that this defense would receive an immediate boost for next season if Shazier were to return. With linebacker already being a weaker spot overall for Ohio State, Shazier leaving could make it much more difficult for the coaching staff in preparing their untested linebackers for the 2014 season. After just missing out on a national championship birth following a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game, one might wonder if Shazier would want to pursue that crystal football one more time.

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