Breakout NFL prospect Ryan Ramczyk wows as Badgers bludgeon Michigan State
The Division-III left tackle transfer is quickly proving he has a future in the NFL
Something must be in the water in Madison.
The same program that helped turn transfers J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson into future superstars appears to have another breakout NFL prospect in left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, a former Division-III player whose stellar blocking Saturday helped No. 11 Wisconsin blow out No. 8 Michigan State 30-6 in front of a stunned crowd in East Lansing.
In traditional Big Ten fashion, this was a game built in the trenches, with both teams hoping to control the line of scrimmage and run the football. While the style of play surprised no one, the final score certainly did.
The Badgers blowing out the Spartans in East Lansing seemed the least likely outcome for this contest, especially given that Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst opted to start redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook at quarterback -- a seemingly Herculean task given a dominant Michigan State defensive line featuring projected first-round pick Malik McDowell.
It was the Badgers' defense that made the big plays in this contest, however, intercepting two passes from Michigan State redshirt senior quarterback Tyler O'Connell and returning a fumble 66 yards for a touchdown to turn an otherwise fairly even matchup into a blowout.
And while the entire Wisconsin program played well Saturday (including Watt's younger brother, T.J.), from an NFL scout's perspective, Ramczyk's success was arguably the biggest takeaway.
Wisconsin churning out NFL-caliber offensive linemen is, of course, nothing new, but little about the 6-foot-6, 314-pound Ramcyzk (pronounced Ram-check) follows the normal script.
Unsure of what he wanted to do after high school, Ramczyk turned down an offer from Chryst to play at Pitt, instead opting to remain close to home and sign with D-II Winona State. Ramczyk never took a snap for the Warriors, however, instead opting to transfer first to Mid-State Technical College (which does not have a football team, or any varsity athletics program, for that matter) and then later to UW-Stevens Point, a D-III program.
After rediscovering his love of the game in two seasons with the Pointers, Ramczyk pursued a reunion with Chryst, who had since taken over at Wisconsin. Ramczyk had to sit out the 2014 season due to the transfer, but Chryst wasted little time this spring in naming the Wisconsin native his starting left tackle. Since, Ramczyk has rewarded his head coach's faith, standing out against LSU's athletic front in the season opener and not surrendering a single pressure or sack in the two games since.
If the matchup with Arden Key and LSU three weeks ago was Ramczyk's coming out party, Saturday was a strong reinforcement that the former D-III player has a bright NFL future.
It is the nature of the position for size and strength to earn most of the attention when evaluating linemen, and Ramczyk certainly passes the eye test with his broad shoulders, long arms and evenly distributed weight.
His greatest asset, however, is pure athleticism, which makes his journey from D-III UW-Stevens Point to a potentially early-round NFL Draft pick for the Badgers all the more interesting.
The Badgers ran the ball 41 times for 122 yards (3.0 YPC average) against the Spartans, with Ramczyk supplying key blocks on many of them. He shows terrific initial quickness when asked to block at the second level, firing out and making tough cut blocks at the second level appear routine. When the time came for Wisconsin to simply knock defenders off the ball, Ramczyk showed good power and pad level, as well, bowing his back and showing the leg drive to move the pile.
Given his relative inexperience, perhaps most impressive, however, was Ramczyk's balance, agility and patience in pass protection. He eases off the snap, sliding left with light feet and bent knees waiting for the defender to come to him. The coordination between his upper and lower body is impressive, as Ramczyk keeps his feet sliding while shooting his hands into the chest of opponents. From there, Ramczyk's long arms and strength typically take over, essentially ending the play for the defender.
On the few occasions in which opponents were able to slip by him, however, Ramczyk showed the poise that will earn him high marks from offensive line coaches as well as scouts, maintaining his technique with bent knees and using his trailing right arm to get a final, powerful shove on the rusher.
The Spartans kept the 6-foot-5, 282-pound McDowell inside for much of the game, but there were a few snaps in which McDowell lined up opposite Ramczyk.
On two such occasions, McDowell was able to cross the face of Ramczyk. This may have been part of the left tackle's strategy for containing the freakishly talented McDowell, however, as in each instance, Ramczyk had help -- either a chipping running back or left guard Michael Deiter. Allowing McDowell to rush upfield too far opened up lanes for the Badgers to exploit and often allowed the second blocker (whether it be Ramcyzk) or one of his teammates to get a late shove in on McDowell, effectively neutralizing the same defender who terrorized Notre Dame and its collection of NFL-caliber offensive linemen just a week ago.
Scouts traveling through Madison a year ago were already buzzing about the team's "hidden gem," earning him a spot among NFLDraftScout.com's top 25 offensive tackle prospects for 2018 before he'd taken a snap at the FBS level.
With terrific performances against LSU and Michigan State already under his belt and a critical showdown with the undefeated Michigan Wolverines coming up next week, expect the excitement about the Badgers' newest breakout NFL prospect to only grow higher. In fact, should his stellar redshirt junior campaign continue, Ramczyk may have to consider giving up his final year of college eligibility for one more transfer -- this time directly to the NFL.
Not every draft pick can be a winner. Here are the 32 guys who could cause the most regret
Our list of late-round gems includes plenty of lesser-known backs and quality linemen
A running back going No. 2 overall? When you're being compared to Hall of Fame runner, yes
Pass rushers and explosive offensive players highlight the best Day 1 contributors
Here's every draft pick heading to the NFC West, including 21 by the Seahawks and 49ers co...
Here's every draft pick heading to the NFC South, home of the NFC's last two Super Bowl te...