Jake Ryan came in as a freshman without much fanfare -- or recruiting hype, same thing -- and promptly redshirted. He was a generic three star out of Cleveland St. Ignatius and chose Michigan over offers from CMU, EMU, Toledo, Ball State, and Bowling Green -- not exactly a stellar offer list. High school teammate and fellow linebacker Scott McVey committed to Ohio State in that same recruiting cycle and was much more ballyhooed than was Ryan: McVey chose Ohio State over offers from Michigan, MSU, Iowa, Stanford and West Virginia. As expected, their careers have taken divergent paths, but surprisingly Ryan is the one developing into a star: McVey hasn't recorded a stat so far at Ohio State and Ryan has solidified the starting spot at strongside linebacker and looks to parlay a very good Sugar Bowl into a strong 2012 season.
Jake Ryan didn't see any action during his first year on campus (obviously), but gathered a bit of buzz during practices leading up to the Gator Bowl and made a few big plays in the first Spring Game under the new staff. Surprisingly, as a redshirt freshman, Ryan emerged as the starting SAM linebacker in the season opener, and he promptly made one of the bigger plays of Michigan's season: singlehandedly pressuring WMU quarterback Alex Carder and tipping the pass that ultimately landed in Brandon Herron's hands and was run back for a touchdown. From there, he went on to have a productive season littered with big plays: Ryan went on to finish with 37 tackles (11 TFL), three sacks, a forced fumble against San Diego State, and a few big plays against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. He wasn't flawless and made a few freshman mistakes; but he still had an excellent year and finished on Rivals' All-Freshman Second Team.
It's pretty easy to describe Ryan's skill-set: he's strong enough to hold up against the run, makes good enough tackles and can deliver a big hit when necessary, and he's just lightning-quick off of the edge and gets into the backfield with shocking agility and quickness. This type of athleticism makes me think that Ryan has a tremendously high ceiling; not many guys can get off of blocks and get after the quarterback as quick as he can. With a little bit more experience and technique, he'll be even more effective getting after the quarterback and a lot of those freshman mistakes -- misjudging angles or misreading plays -- will disappear. Brian listed him as the Michigan defense's second most-valuable returnee for this upcoming year behind Jordan Kovacs and ahead of guys like Craig Roh, Blake Countess, and Kenny Demens. Part of that is due to his potential and part of that is due to the fact that he's pretty darn good already. With a few more years under his belt, it's not unreasonable to think that Ryan might be one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten as an upperclassman (even though he's essentially a DE/OLB hybrid for Michigan)
Ryan should emerge as more of a star this year and will likely play with more consistency. Cam Gordon is also a viable option at the SAM spot, but Ryan will take up most of the snaps, better his amount of tackles to around fifty or something, and wind up with a few takeaways and a ton of tackles for loss on the season. Expect him to finish as a second-team All-Big Ten performer as more people start to notice him blowing up plays with his speed and athleticism.