With the top corners and the best three wide receivers off the board, the Pittsburgh Steelers played it smart Thursday night opting to add another Ohio State Buckeye, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
After a year in which one of the leagues best safeties in Troy Polamalu started at inside linebacker hybrid, Shazier has the size and speed the Steelers have been searching for at that position.
He is 6-foot-2 with a tight build at 235 pounds. Shazier is relentless in pursuit. He is more of an arm tackler than a typical Steelers linebacker but he is perhaps relying on his strengths. He ran an unofficial 4.33-4.40 in the 40 and had 25 reps on the bench press at the NFL combine.
By contrast the top-ranked ILB, C.J. Mosley, had 15 bench presses and a slow 4.63 40. Mosley was selected just two picks later by their rivals the Baltimore Ravens, proving the Steelers drafted value at No. 15.
The Steelers have had an emphasis on speeding up their defense and finding playmakers. Shazier has the versatility to play all linebacker positions. He had over 100 tackles in his last two college seasons on an atypically weak Buckeye defense. He will compete against last year’s starters Vince Williams and Terence Garvin, and former third-round pick Sean Spence for the open linebacker spot to compliment Lawrence Timmons (Round 1 2007).
The Steelers will now be able to move Timmons to the “Buck” position. Timmons’ strength and style would be better fighting off blockers against the run like his former teammate, James Farrior (retired 2011). This was a plan they had in mind when they drafted Spence in 2012 but couldn’t make the transition after Spence was injured in preseason.
Shazier has the added ability to cover running backs and tight ends. He has good vision for the quarterback and awareness in the field. Talents you need when facing the AFC North champions Cincinnati Bengals, whose 2013 draft picks included: RB Giovani Bernard (Round 2) and TE Tyler Eifert (Round 1).
Both Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin know in Round 1, speed sets players apart.
“This guy can flat out run. As offenses continue to spread out, you need speed … You need speed everywhere.” Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert on first round pick Ryan Shazier
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Round 1: The Steelers stayed on their draft board after missing on bigger names at CB and WR. Still Shazier has a good chance to make an immediate impact on the one true open spot in the Steelers defense. For a team ranked 21st against the run, middle linebacker is a big need.