Let the countdown begin towards the 2018 NFL Draft. I almost get the feeling that choosing a First round prospect is like getting that Prom Date right. The front office has been faced with a lot of burning questions lately leading into this year’s Draft; should they get an immediate replacement for Ryan Shazier, an heir to the quarterback throne after Ben Roethlisberger, or should they roll the dice and look for another Running Back beyond Le’Veon Bell?
Ryan Shazier’s absence can still be a dark cloud over this defense in 2018. Shazier was not only one of their best tacklers, but proved to be invaluable at pass coverage. According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper, the Cowboys who are at No. 19 in the first round, may be more inclined to go after a WR after choosing to part ways with Dez Bryant. This could make the Steelers chances of grabbing Alabama ILB Rashaan Evans, greater.
“That could push Evans down just a bit,” according to Kiper. Roquan Smith will be long gone. Tremaine Edmunds will be long gone. But Rashaan Evans could be there.”
Kiper also hinted that Boise State ILB Leighton Vander Esch may be available, but was in favor of Evans. “He can be an inside guy, or you can put him outside in pass rush situations,” said Kiper. “He can rush from the inside. He can wear a couple hats there.”
To further prove his pedigree, here’s a scouting report from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein:
While Vander Esch is an enticing prospect, it is Evans who impresses me more. He stands at 6’3, 233-pounds, and would be a perfect fit to fill in for Ryan Shazier during his absence. He can run, hit, and is athletic enough to cover. I’m assuming Evans will look a lot like “pre-Shazier arrival Lawrence Timmons”, when No. 94 was at the height of his game.
Some highlights of Zierlein’s scouting report:
• Built like new breed of NFL linebackers
• Possesses good length and great speed
• Premium athlete with plus agility, range and explosiveness
• Quick to diagnose
• Explosive, wrap-up striker who sees what he hits
• Plays with pain
• Sub-package rusher with upfield burst to threaten the edge
• Burst as delayed blitzer from inside linebacker spot is too much for most linemen to catch.
Interesting comparison, huh?
Despite finishing fifth in Total Yards, Keith Butler’s unit finished 30th in tackles (third-worse in the league). The cold, hard facts are that the Steelers dropped six spots in tackling since Shazier’s injury. Either way you look at it, Pittsburgh has worked hard to re-establish a solid defense, and Shazier was a big cornerstone piece for them. If he is available, it’s vital they don’t pass on Rashaan Evans. If they do, their defense will remain more vulnerable and perhaps cost them their top spot in the AFC North.
We shall see if the Steelers will select a linebacker in five out of the last six seasons on Thursday night...