When the Pittsburgh Steelers went on the clock with the No. 15 pick on Thursday night, there was plenty of talent on the board. Pittsburgh isn't a team in disarray, but it has some clear spots where it can upgrade talent.
That meant predicting who would be the pick was a challenge. And when it comes down to surprises, Pittsburgh didn’t disappoint. Not many had Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier as the selection, but the Steelers did, and that’s what mattered.
He is an incredibly athletic, dynamic defensive player. During his time at Ohio State, he racked up 317 total tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss and 15.0 sacks in three seasons. The Buckeyes are renowned for their defense, and Shazier was one of the best on the field the last three seasons.
However, once the shock of the pick wears off, you have to think about why he was drafted and what defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will do with him.
We answer the first question with a tweet from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah:
The Steelers needed to get faster and more dynamic on defense. I think Shazier brings both elements.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 9, 2014
That’s what it is all about. Too many times last season, this defense was forced into sub-packages when they shouldn’t have needed to, in order to get faster and more athletic. This was partly to do with the fact that linebacker Vince Williams couldn't keep up. He is a hardworking player but lacks the type of coverage skills that Shazier brings.
Shazier also offers this team more scheme versatility. There’s no reason to believe he can’t line up inside or outside in that 3-4. He can rush the passer, play man coverage and chase-and-tackle in the run game.
ESPN’s college football Twitter account offered a little snippet of what Shazier will bring to the Steelers defense:
Where will he play? Primarily, he is going to line up inside, next to Lawrence Timmons. In the base defense, Shazier will be the weak-side linebacker on the inside and Timmons will be on the strong side. Bob Labriola of Steelers.com is inclined to agree:
Expect Lawrence Timmons to move to strongside ILB and Ryan Shazier to be the weakside ILB. That was James Farrior's position— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) May 9, 2014
However, Shazier could impact this defense in much more profound ways. His size and speed could allow him to be a hybrid linebacker/safety in that big nickel package. He can also work as a blitzer on the outside in all formations but in particular in sub-packages.
Imagine Jason Worilds on the line as a pass-rushing outside linebacker and Shazier standing up next to him on his outside shoulder. At the snap, Worilds takes an outside move, and Shazier twists inside.
This pick could reap tremendous benefits in generating sacks and turnovers—both areas that this team has struggled with recently.
Overall, Shazier could turn out to be the player who puts this defense back on the map. And thinking forward still, what if linebacker Sean Spence can come back? Spence and Shazier on the field at the same time would probably be as fast a tandem as there is in the league.