Big Ten rankings: No. 4, Ryan Shazier

We're counting down our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013 season. This list is based on past performance and potential for the upcoming season only. We do not consider NFL potential for purposes of these rankings.

Up next is a guy who knows how to make big hits and timely plays ...

No. 4: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State, junior, 6-foot-2, 222 pounds

2012 postseason ranking: No. 10

2012 numbers: Collected 115 tackles, including 17 for loss and five sacks. Also had an interception, 11 pass break-ups and three forced fumbles in 12 games.

Why he's here: Shazier was all over the place last year, especially in the second half of the season for the Buckeyes. Most memorably, he had the huge, momentum-shifting interception for a touchdown at Penn State, and the otherworldly goal-line stop of Montee Ball at Wisconsin.

How good was Shazier? He finished in the Top 10 in the Big Ten in five different categories, including his league-best 17 tackles for loss and the second-most total tackles in the conference. He did so while having to anchor a thin and injury-riddled linebacker corps as a true sophomore, one who had really only played the position for two years (he lined up at defensive end in high school). Shazier was relying mostly on athleticism and instinct early on but become much better as he began to learn the position and focus on his techniques. As a result, he became one of the most fearsome defensive playmakers in the league.

Going into this season, Shazier is the only experienced returning starter in the Buckeyes' front seven. Ohio State will need him to be at his best, especially early on as the young guys learn the ropes. But he has shown to be a fast learner to go along with his impressive speed and strength. Shazier should be a leader on the Buckeyes' defense, and we expect him to be right in the middle of a bunch of big plays again.

The countdown

No. 25: Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois

No. 24: Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa

No. 23: James White, RB, Wisconsin

No. 22: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

No. 21: John Urschel, G, Penn State

No. 20: Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern

No. 19: Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State

No. 18: Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State

No. 17: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

No. 16: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin

No. 15: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

No. 14: Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern

No. 13: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

No. 12: Spencer Long, G, Nebraska

No. 11: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan

No. 10: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

No. 9: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

No. 8: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

No. 7: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State

No. 6: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin

No. 5: Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern