After his first three seasons, linebacker Ryan Shazier has gradually become one of the best players at his position.
Shazier was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft as the Steelers were desperately in need of an inside linebacker who can help stop the run along side veteran Lawrence Timmons but also quick enough to make plays in coverage.
During his rookie season, Shazier showed great potential but was inconsistent and injured much of the season. The rookie played in just nine games and totaled thirty-six tackles. Since then, the injury bug has continued to follow Shazier as he has yet to play through an entire NFL season without missing any time. However, Shazier’s production has grown into exactly what the black and gold was looking for. 2016 proved to be Shazier’s first pro bowl season, but many think the sky is the limit for the twenty-four year old linebacker.
When free agency opened in March, the Steelers lost Timmons to the Miami Dolphins. A veteran that has left his mark for the last ten seasons, has suddenly left a void in the heart of the Steelers’ defense. While the Steelers knocked on the door of a Super Bowl appearance last season, it will be up to Shazier and his supporting cast to help push and break through the barrier that is holding them back from capturing their seventh Super Bowl victory.
“I just want to be a name that’s remembered forever,” Shazier told the Talk of Fame Sports Network in March. “I want to be in the Hall of Fame and have my name in the record books. I just want guys to remember me as somebody who’s really changing the game and (that) they want more guys to be like me and play like me and have the capabilities that I have.”
The talk of wanting to have his name remembered for how he plays must be exciting for the Steelers to hear. Of course, saying you want to be remembered and doing the things that are required for him to make that happen is what the Steelers really want to see. For that to happen, Shazier must become the the unquestioned, dominant leader for this young defense.
The defense finished tenth in the league last season in points allowed per game (20.4) and twelfth in yards allowed per game (342.6). Shazier went on a tear of his own to close the season and recorded interceptions in four of the team’s last five games. Shazier told reporters that a lot of that production came from studying film.
Untapped potential is a common theme across the entire defense. In the last two drafts, the Steelers have added a lot of new faces. Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave all became starters during their rookie season. This year, the Steelers went back and added four more players to the mix (TJ Watt, Cameron Sutton, Brian Allen, and Keion Adams).
Going into his fourth season with a team on the brink of going back to the Super Bowl, the pressure is on for Ryan Shazier. Two years remain on his rookie contract and this season will be the ultimate test to see if he is ready to take that next step in his NFL career.Will he answer the bell?