For many, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 15th overall selection of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier may have come as a bit of a surprise, and perhaps somewhat earlier than expected. That certainly seemed to be the general tone on set.
Even though I wrote about Shazier yesterday as one of the five realistic targets the Steelers should be satisfied coming away with, it did come as somewhat of a surprise with other players still available. It seemed reasonable that Shazier was a player that could have potentially been had later in a trade-down scenario.
According to a variety of reports, however, it appears that if Shazier didn’t go 15th overall, he was likely headed to Texas with the next pick, as his agent was reportedly on the phone with the Dallas Cowboys when the Steelers selected him.
Additionally, Jim Wexell writes that the Steelers would not have been able to find a trade-down partner anyway, if they were so inclined. Still, the hypothetical of being able to trade down to 22 and still acquire cornerback Darqueze Dennard is certainly tasty food for thought, but it would have been impossible to predict that.
So, before we go head-first into analyzing the selection of Shazier, let it be known that the Steelers selected him exactly where they needed to, because he would have been gone one pick later.
Shazier will in all likelihood play the mack inside linebacker, assuming he can earn a starting spot as a rookie, moving Lawrence Timmons over to the buck, and probably assuming playcalling duties.
As of right now, it seems that he will have a reasonable shot of becoming an opening-day starter. His competition, of course, will be second-year former sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams and third-year former third-round pick Sean Spence.
Williams started most of the season last year when Larry Foote was lost for the season in the opener, though he was regularly subbed out on obvious passing downs. With Shazier’s 4.4 speed and natural coverage ability, that will not be an issue.
Spence, on the other hand, has a lot of characteristics in common with Shazier—at least when he was drafted. He has missed his first two seasons due to a severe knee injury that resulted in nerve damage, but the expectation is that he will ultimately be able to contribute this year.
Whether he will be the same player physically that they drafted two years ago is another matter, and the team would perhaps be wary of thrusting him into a starting lineup after not playing two years anyway.
In the meantime, we have ample opportunity to scrutinize this selection in the months ahead before we ever see him on the field. Perhaps it could be argued that inside linebacker wasn’t as big of a need as cornerback, but in a 3-4, the middle of the defense is everything.