Huh. I certainly didn’t see that coming…
In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers were widely projected to take former Pitt Panthers cornerback Darrelle Revis with the fifteenth overall pick. Fans knew it, draftniks knew it, and everybody in the NFL evidently knew it because the New York Jets swung a last second deal with Carolina to leapfrog the Black and Gold and snatch Revis out from under us. With their coveted prospect gone, the Steelers threw up their hands and took a flier on the best athlete left on the board. That athlete wound up being a linebacker out of Florida State named Lawrence Timmons.
Fast forward seven years later and the 2014 NFL Draft. Everybody and their mother predicted the Steelers would take either a playmaking wide receiver or a cornerback capable of stepping in to start for their beleaguered secondary. By the time pick #15 rolled around, all three of the draft’s most explosive playmakers were long gone. So was top CB prospect Justin Gilbert and, one pick before the Steelers, fast rising #2 option Kyle Fuller. What did the Steelers do? Threw up their hands and took a flier on the best athlete left on the board.
Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier is your newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That sound you may of heard around 9:45 last night were the collective voices of a million members of Steeler Nation simultaneously shouting, “WHAT?!?!”
To say Shazier was a bit of a curveball is an understatement. Although after some time for reflection, the pick begins to make some sense. First of all, he was announced as an OLB in the draft video packages but GM Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin quickly clarified that they projected him to play ILB in their post-draft press conference. Although ILB wasn’t a desperate need, I have been saying all along that the Steelers couldn’t be too happy with Vince Williams and would probably draft somebody to eventually take his place.
I just didn’t expect it to be in the first round.
The Shazier pick has polarized Steeler Nation like no first rounder I’ve seen in recent times. There’s no disputing that he’s an elite athlete. You look over the 40 times at linebacker and you’ll see a smattering of 4.6’s and 4.7’s with the occasional 4.5 popping up. Shazier ran an insane 4.38. That’s top shelf speed for a CB or WR, never mind a linebacker. At the Combine, he led all linebackers in vertical jump, broad jump, and 3 cone shuffle. Dude is an athletic freak.
What that translates to on the field is another matter. As you can see by his highlight tape – provided you can stomach the annoying music long enough to watch the whole thing – Shazier runs like he’s shot out of cannon. However, nearly all his sacks came on free runs to the QB. In fact, most of his big plays occur when he’s out in space. That’s fine for a safety or DB, not so much for an ILB. Tomlin himself even said his biggest concern right now is getting Shazier into the weight room to work on his strength.
Timmons took three years to establish himself as a legit starter because he struggled shedding blocks and playing through traffic. He’s since matured into the tackling machine and the team’s best all-around linebacker so there is hope for Shazier. Although with the Steelers D aging and in desperate need of young talent, I’m not sure we can afford to wait three years for him to develop. If lightning can even strike twice.
Shazier is an excellent tackler with fantastic pursuit ability. He’s also smallish – he’s listed at 237 but I’ve heard from draftniks that he put on weight for the Combine and actually played most of last season around 220 – to the point if you look at the frame and speed, you almost wonder if he’d project more as a Carnell Lake type safety. One thing’s for sure, he’s not the in-the-box thumper one would assume the Steelers needed to shore up their porous run defense. In fact, one scouting report I read straight out said he needs a big NT to clear gaps for him in order to make plays.
Obviously, the Steelers are in the process of rebuilding a defensive line which cleared very few gaps last season. What Shazier does bring to the table is his unmatched speed which should at least make him valuable in pass coverage. If you watched a lot of Steelers games last season, you probably noticed Dick LeBeau‘s new hotness is a formation called the Big Nickel. It was frequently pointed out that Troy Polamalu actually positioned himself at linebacker in that defense. Shazier could easily slide into Troy’s place, freeing him up to go cover/make plays in the secondary. In fact, I’m sure the versatility Shazier brings was one of the biggest factors in his favor.
The reason so many Steeler fans are less than enthused by this pick – besides the obvious concerns that he might be a workout warrior – are twofold. First, it’s cool to have a super-fast athletic linebacker running all over the field causing havoc, fortunately we already have one in Lawrence Timmons. He really doesn’t add anything new or different to the defense. Secondly, by skipping over a desperate need at cornerback, the Steelers may have cost themselves a chance to address their most glaring need.
I’m fine with them not taking a receiver. From Mike Wallace to Antonio Brown to even Manny Sanders, Colbert has shown he can find good to great wide outs in later rounds. Finding quality corners is another matter. As I said in my draft preview, the ready-to-play sure fire corners go early in today’s NFL. Shortly after the Steelers took Shazier, Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby all went off the board. By the time we pick again, the top-tier CB talent will be all gone. Sure there’ll still be some interesting prospects and we may even hit on one but the odds decrease greatly once you start picking corners in mid to late rounds.
Time will tell whether Ryan Shazier turns out to be the kind of splash play machine Tomlin and company clearly envision him being. In the meantime, the Steelers went into this draft with several huge holes that need to be addressed. After the first day of the draft, it’s safe to say they still haven’t addressed any of them.