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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.
Unsure of what he wanted to do after high school, Ramczyk turned down an offer from then-Pitt coach Paul Chryst to play for the Panthers, 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 in spring camp in naming the Wisconsin native his starting left tackle. Ramczyk starred once on the field, silencing an aggressive and gifted LSU front in the season-opener and providing stellar pass protection and run blocking lanes throughout the conference season. In his first and only season at the FBS level, Ramczyk earned First Team All-Big Ten honors from league coaches, consensus All-American honors from the media and a first round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee.
Complicating matters is the fact that Ramczyk underwent surgery Jan. 5 to repair damage in his right hip. "The surgeon said there was less damage than he expected and it went well," Ramczyk said. "I won't be able to test (physically) at the (NFL) combine, but I'll be there for all the interviews and test and measurements. "It's a big decision, but with this opportunity it's pretty difficult to pass up."
If physicians give general managers the go-ahead, Ramczyk could be difficult to let slide in the 2017 draft -- especially given this year's below-average crop at left tackle.
STRENGTHS: 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 comes to simply knock defenders off the ball, Ramczyk shows good power and pad level, as well, bowing his back and showing the leg drive to move the pile. Given his relative inexperience, Ramczyk shows impressive 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. Shows 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. Showed toughness in fighting through a hip injury in 2016, opting to push off surgery until after the Cotton Bowl.
WEAKNESSES: Relatively inexperienced against top competition, as he did not take a snap at the FBS level until 2016, following transfers from a Division II program where he never played and then to a school close to his home that did not have a football program, so NFL teams will want to gauge his true passion for the game. Does not show a lot of fire in his play. Can get lazy with his technique, failing to bend at the knees, at times and getting too high with his hands. Occasionally over-sets to his left, leaving too much room between himself and the guard. Requires a careful check by team doctors at the Combine due to his recent hip surgery.
IN OUR VIEW: Someone alert the Lifetime network, because the "Ryan Ramczyk Story" is one made for television. A year after Carson Wentz went from a relatively unknown quarterback from North Dakota State rose all the way up to the No. 2 overall draft pick, Ramczyk has nearly matched the improbable ascent, going from a little D-III to a legitimate first round prospect and quite possibly the first offensive lineman off the board.
COMPARES TO: Nate Solder, New England Patriots -- Ramczyk is not quite as tall as the 6-foot-8 Patriots' left tackle but he is also a hulking presence with similar poise, balance and agility in protecting the edge.