In a position formerly manned by the likes of Larry Foote and Vince Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers top draft pick and rookie Ryan Shazier will give the team a much needed infusion of youth, versatility and speed starting at inside linebacker.
The talent Shazier brings, along with the linebacking greatness of his franchise, ensures that he will be a stud in the Steel City.
The Steelers grabbed Shazier with the 15th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after the linebacker’s star-studded career at Ohio State. Being credited with 44.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and nine forced fumbles in Colombus is already a compelling argument, but when combined with tantalizing game film, Shazier’s pro potential looks even better. Here’s some of what the 21-year-old brings to the table.
1. Fluidity in pass coverage:
2. Using his speed to attack screens:
3. Lining up versus a slot receiver and then crushing the ball-carrier:
This is just a taste of what Shazier can do, and the physical gifts that helped him in the above plays will stand out even against NFL athletes. This year’s scouting combine was proof of that, in which Shazier posted the best vertical leap of all players at 42 inches, according to NFL.com.
Shazier's athletic prowess also drew praise from Bleacher Report's Chris Simms, who thinks that the linebacker could become a star in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense:
If the videos above somehow do not make it obvious, Shazier is F-A-S-T fast—he ran an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.36 at his pro day, per NFL.com—and he is perfectly built for the modern game. In recent years, Pittsburgh has had a large and physically imposing front seven, but their bulk often got the best of them versus the size/speed freaks taking over the NFL.
Remember the hype surrounding Terrelle Pryor after he zipped past the entire Steelers defense?
Or Rob Gronkowski taking advantage of a clearly-out-of-his-element Jarvis Jones?
Shazier could have taken care of both of those mishaps. He can track down even the most dangerous runners and can stick to tight ends like glue. No, he’s not already a freak combination of Derrick Brooks and Darrell Green, but with a bit of seasoning, the Steelers can turn him into one of the league’s top defensive weapons.
“Can” is the key word here. Pittsburgh has a long lineage of excellent first-round defenders, but in recent years, they surprisingly haven’t hit a home run. Ziggy Hood didn’t do anything of note for the Steelers, and Cameron Heyward and Jarvis Jones are yet to be determined.
What’s different about Shazier is that he is on track to be the first rookie linebacker to start Week 1 for Pittsburgh since 2001, per SB Nation’s Kevin Dorsey.
Throwing a rookie into the fire usually isn’t the Steelers’ ideal development plan, but the lack of an established starter beside Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker and Shazier’s transcendent ability is forcing them to bend the rules a little.
It’s showing in Pittsburgh’s practices as of late.
Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote that Shazier was playing all over the field during a non-contact practice in June, and he compared the rookie to a younger Troy Polamalu. Shazier’s versatility was so extreme that he was assigned outside coverage on Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown at one point.
In the same article, Shazier discussed where he will line up in future practices:
You never know with coach (Dick) LeBeau, he can do anything. Maybe one play I might be on Antonio Brown. The next play I might be on Le'Veon. The next rep I might be on Heath (Miller). Whatever he wants me to do, whatever he wants the defense to do, we'll go in there and do.
With a myriad of assignments being tossed his way, Shazier already has the trust of the typically conservative Steelers coaching staff. That’s a tell-tale sign of an immediate NFL stud.
Shazier won’t be flawless, and no rookie ever will be. But what he does have going for him is an excellent foundation in Pittsburgh. Veterans of the Steel City’s last Super Bowl win may be leaving in droves—James Harrison, Casey Hampton, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark among them—yet Polamalu, Timmons and Ike Taylor are still standing.
Shazier’s versatility means that all three of these seasoned veterans can provide the rookie with information that each is intimately familiar with. He won’t be left to fend for himself, which often stunts a player’s growth more than anything else.
The case for Shazier becoming a star boils down to his skill set, perfectly tailored for the modern game, and his situation in Pittsburgh, featuring an experienced and decorated coaching staff along with quality veterans.
There is a good chance that pundits will look back at the 2014 draft and question why Shazier wasn’t drafted higher. The simple answer being that he was too good of a linebacker to not land with the Steelers. Their defensive excellence up the middle continues, metamorphosing to thrive in the modern game.