Scenario: Steelers' 1st round draft pick, Ryan Shazier, becomes the first Steeler to win Defensive Rookie of the Year award since Kendrell Bell in 2001.
Why it will happen: Shazier has as good a chance as any defensive rookie in the NFL to bring home this award based on the amount of playing time he is bound to see. Shazier has been running with the starters since he put on his jersey for the first OTA session, and hasn't left that position since.
Shazier's pure athleticism and speed will give him every opportunity to make plays that will draw attention of voters. Just last week in mini camp, Shazier made several plays that caught the attention of the local media and gave a glimpse of the type of splash plays he could deliver to the Steelers in his rookie season. Veterans are noticing the potential as even Ben Roethlisberger sees Shazier calling the plays on the defense sooner than later.
Why it won't happen: Regardless of intrigue or how impressive Shazier might be, it is still a Dick LeBeau defense, and Shazier is still a rookie. When Kendrell Bell won the award in 2001, he was also at the inside linebacker position, and was able to work his assignments to perfection. However, Bell had a much better defense around him when he won the award.
Shazier is stepping into a defense that has some veterans, but is very green in terms of experience. With the lack of experience will come mistakes that could leave the rookie vulnerable. Shazier is bound to make mistakes, both physically and mentally, throughout the course of the season, but when those mistakes happen will be crucial. Blown assignmets that lead to touchdowns will weigh heavily against Shazier in terms of voting for the defensive rookie of the year award.
Keys: Shazier will need to rely on the rest of his teammates to do their jobs so that he can use that speed and athleticism to make plays. In 2013, the defensive line didn't tie up the offensive line, which allowed the line to get to the next level and block the linebackers. LeBeau's system is built around the defensive line allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball and make plays. If the line in front of Shazier doesn't hold up, there is a good chance he gets swallowed up in the process.
With the amount of sub package football that is now employed at the NFL level, Shazier will find himself in very precarious situations. Covering tight ends and even the occasional slot receiver. Shazier's ability to learn the defense, understand his assignments and make plays when they present themselves will ultimately be the deciding factor on Shazier potentially being the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.