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Steelers Ryan Shazier could be best ILB in the NFL, if he stays healthy

The Pittsburgh Steelers ILB Ryan Shazier is going into his third season. Does he have what it takes to become the best inside linebacker in the NFL? Just one thing...he has to stay healthy.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers second-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier certainly has shown flashes of greatness. He is a playmaker and has helped the organization win football games, especially the ones that matter the most. Shazier's rookie campaign was filled with injuries and learning curves, which he improved in his second year. Fans everywhere saw development and signs of potential which definitely has given comfort and excitement going into the 2016 NFL season.

Certainly without the outstanding effort of Shazier, Pittsburgh would have given the Cincinnati Bengals a playoff win, which hasn't been done in 25 years. A late forced fumble on Bengals running back Jeremy Hill set up a chance to win against Pittsburgh's most hated rival. In my opinion, this play defined the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers. Overcoming adversity, playing with true heart, and never giving up even when everyone thought it was over.

Veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons normally calls the plays to the defense. This was not the case in 2015 where Shazier took over the play calling duties. He previously did this at Ohio State and was given the opportunity this year with the Steelers. As you can see, Shazier has grown as a player and will continue to grow as time goes on. Calling the defensive plays is an outstanding honor to a second-year linebacker whose leadership skills only will improve going into his junior campaign.

A main question going into the 2016 NFL season is whether or not Shazier could be a top inside linebacker in the NFL. We all would like to have a Luke Kuechly on the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this certainly will not happen. Shazier has provided excellent play in his sophomore campaign with Pittsburgh. He racked up 87 tackles, one interception, and three and a half sacks. He also had a remarkable 13 total tackles in the postseason along with a forced fumble to help Pittsburgh secure a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Injuries have been a common occurrence with Shazier, who has struggled to stay healthy. In 2014, he was sidelined with knee and ankle injuries. During this time, fans, including myself, wondered if he is capable in the NFL and if he will overcome these injuries and succeed going into the following year. In 2015, he was sidelined for only three weeks with nerve damage in his shoulder. This was an excellent improvement from 2014 where he missed a total of 7 games.

When it comes to speed and the ability to pursue the football, Shazier is your guy. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2014, and is one of the fastest inside linebackers in the NFL. At practice in 2014, Shazier was used to cover star receiver Antonio Brown which goes to show you how fast he truly is. Having a speed faster than most wide receivers in the NFL, showing complete leadership in the huddle, winning football games when they matter the most, and only in your second year in the NFL, are outstanding accomplishments for Ryan Shazier going into his third season.

There is no doubt in my mind, and the mind of football fans all over, that if he continues to stay healthy he could be a true star at the inside linebacker position. Whether it is racking up more tackles, getting more interceptions, or just dominating the football field, I know for a fact Ryan Shazier will improve from his rookie and sophomore campaigns. The future is bright for a young man just tying to succeed at a high level and I wouldn't be surprised to see an absolute breakout season from him going into 2016.