Pittsburgh Steelers rookie first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier made his NFL debut last night against the Buffalo Bills after he was forced to sit out last week’s preseason opener with a bone bruise, and the wait was worth it.
The raw statistics themselves are impressive. In less than a half, the inside linebacker recorded nine solo tackles on defense, adding another two tackles on special teams, and capped it off with an instinctive and athletic interception in front of tight end Scott Chandler.
No other player on either side of the ball really even came very close to matching those numbers. He recorded the same number of tackles against a starting defense as Dan Molls did against reserves a week ago, with three of them being assists.
Of course, the performance wasn’t simply statistically significant. It was not just the way that he executed those plays that was impressive. It was also the way that he carried himself that instills confidence in him.
NFL.com put together a handy package of some of Shazier’s highlights from last night that begin to portray his strong debut.
Even as well as Sean Spence and Terence Garvin have played so far, Shazier left no question in anybody’s mind that he deserves to be the opening day starter at inside linebacker for the Steelers, the first rookie to start a season on defense for the team in over a decade.
And he won’t simply start—he has the potential to be a difference-making player instantly. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if he leads the team in tackles and finishes the year in the running for defensive rookie of the year.
I can’t be entirely sure that I’m not convincing myself of seeing something that I want to see, but it also seemed almost as though his playing was infectious, inspiring the veterans around him to step up their game as well.
I could see Shazier and Lawrence Timmons holding a competition to see who racks up the most tackles in each game and at the end of the season, the way James Farrior and Larry Foote once did when they were in their prime.
Of course, this was his first game as a professional, and he was by no means perfect. He slipped after taking a poor angle against Chandler later in the game, and as a result, almost gave up a first down on third and 27. Those are certainly third downs that you don’t want to allow to be converted on defense, even in the preseason.
But one gets the sense that this is just the beginning of a long journey for Shazier and the Steelers, who quickly wiped away any lingering doubts from fans about the team passing on wide receivers and cornerbacks at the top of the draft.