“We’re going to draft the best available athlete, regardless of need.” – Any NFL General Manager, prior to the draft.
Every NFL general manager always makes some variation of the above statement going into each draft. This time Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin said it and they meant it. The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2014 NFL Draft facing critical needs at defensive line, cornerback, and wide receiver.
- The consensus opinion was that the Steelers would take Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard were he available.
It was almost seen as a slam dunk that it would be Dennard or Kyle Fuller, another corner out of Virginia Tech and if not one of those two, then a wide receiver. Both were available as were wide outs. Instead the Steelers brain trust took Ohio State’s outside linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Which at first blush, appeared that the Steelers were covering themselves at outside linebacker in anticipation of being unable to reach a long-term deal with Jason Worilds and/or taking out an insurance policy against Jarvis Jones development.
- Then the news came that the Steelers plan to move Shazier to the inside.
Colbert and Tomlin really meant it when they said they would not draft for need.
While the Steelers certainly had issues, particularly glaring ones early on, at inside linebacker, the same can be said at corner, defensive line, and to a lesser extent at wide out. But at least at inside linebacker, the Steelers have bodies, in the form of Sean Spence, Terence Garvin and Vince Williams, who struggled mightily but then improved.
- But quantity is one thing, quality is another.
All the bodies in the world do not make up for one playmaker. And Shazier’s tape at Ohio State shows a player with over 150 tackles, a phenomenal vertical leap, and sub 4.4 speed in the 40. Here’s what his YouTube video package looks like:
Statistical rankings aside, the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers defense fielded a dominant unit was in 2010. One of the most undrrated players on that team was Lawrence Timmons, who didn’t have the sack totals of James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley, nor the interceptions of Troy Polamalu.
- But Timmons gave that unit something that it badly needed, a force who could play in the middle of the field in coverage and in run support.
Timmons was all over the field, particularly in the early part of the season, quietly making play after play. And while the Steelers do need to improve their pass rush up front and coverage down field, for much of the last two seasons Troy Polamalu and/or Ryan Clark has had to play up front in the box, to compensate for other weaknesses.
- On paper, Ryan Shazier’s speed and explosiveness should give them that edge in the middle that the Steelers have lacked since James Farrior retired.
As has been said before, Steel Curtain Rising takes full ownership to being the antithesis of a draft nick. But if Ryan Shazier truly has what it takes to be special, then the Steelers were wise to take him at the expense of filling immediate needs.