Labriola On

Steelers believe Shazier fills a need

View photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 1st Round Draft Pick, linebacker Ryan Shazier.

As the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft worked its way through the top 10 picks, there weren't any real surprises, any uh-oh moments. There had been one quarterback picked – Blake Bortles by Jacksonville third overall – and the rest of the names coming off the board at the top of the round largely were the names expected to come off the board at the top of the round.

Yes, maybe Anthony Barr going ninth overall to the Vikings was a little sooner than expected, but it made a lot more sense when viewed through the prism of Minnesota's new coach being Mike Zimmer, who used athletes similar to Barr with great success when he was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.

When the evening began, most Steelers fans were hoping for the team to pick one of the top prospects at cornerback at No. 15, and after the St. Louis Rams selected defensive tackle Aaron Donald at No. 13, it seemed as though they would get their wish. At least, that's what Jerry Jones and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys brain trust figured.

After Donald was picked, there were two of the top three cornerbacks still available – Kyle Fuller and Darqueze Dennard – and even if the Chicago Bears decided on a cornerback that still would leave the Steelers with the one they didn't pick.

The Bears in fact selected Fuller at No. 14, and that's when the Cowboys, picking after the Steelers at No. 16, had their representatives in Radio City Music Hall write a name on an index card and prepare to turn it in to the Commissioner.

The name on that card was Ryan Shazier, and the Cowboys began congratulating themselves on their good fortune. Their joy would turn to stunned silence moments later when Roger Goodell walked to the podium and announced the Steelers' pick. The name on that card was Ryan Shazier, as well.

"We're very excited to be able to announce another No. 1 draft pick, Ryan Shazier, inside linebacker, Ohio State," said General Manager Kevin Colbert. "If you look over Ryan's career, three years at Ohio State, each and every year his production increased. His biggest asset, aside from his youth, is his speed. This guy can flat out run. The thing that really attracts you to him from a defensive standpoint against today's offenses is the offenses continue to spread out, and you need speed. You need speed at linebacker, in your secondary. You need speed everywhere."

Shazier will provide speed, and in a dynamic fashion for an inside linebacker. At 6-foot-1, 237 pounds, Shazier has run a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, and for comparison's sake understand that Sammy Watkins, the consensus No. 1 wide receiver in this draft, ran a 4.43. The Steelers' time on Shazier was 4.40.

Throughout the process, Colbert talked about picking the best player available as opposed to drafting to fill a need, and that's precisely what the Steelers believe they did with Shazier. Coach Mike Tomlin, though, believes Shazier also fills a need.

"What we needed was a defensive playmaker," said Tomlin, "and he fits the bill in that regard. Not only in terms of his skill-set but in terms of what he did there on the field. Highly productive football player, over 100 tackles the last two years. He gets after the quarterback, he's rushed the passer, and he makes plays in coverage as well. That's what he is, he's a defensive playmaker. Bigger than position needs, what we needed was a defensive playmaker."

There can be little argument about that, especially based on the 2013 season. Last season, the Steelers had 20 takeaways to rank tied-for-28th in the NFL; their 10 interceptions was tied-for-29th; and their 34 sacks was tied-for-25th.

"Obviously, we're always very comfortable looking at Ohio State defensive tape, and they asked him to do a lot of similar things that we could envision asking him to do," said Tomlin. "In their base defense, he played inside and in sub-package football, he got after the quarterback quite a bit. He's a guy who will be on his feet, making sideline-to-sideline tackles associated with today's football."

One of the goals of this offseason was for the Steelers to get younger and faster on defense, and also to add people who are playmakers, whether those plays are made attacking the backfield or after the ball is thrown. To explain how Shazier might be used, figure on him lining up as the weakside inside linebacker, sort of the position James Farrior played.

"When you watch (Shazier) he's an easy evaluation," said Colbert. "Just that burst, it's unique. He's going to grow, he has to get stronger, he's going to have to get bigger. There are some big guys who will get on him on occasion, but usually he figures it out and he'll go make another play. You have to put the blinders on to the need word, and in this case as (Tomlin) said, we need defensive playmakers. He's a defensive playmaker."

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