"What we needed, was a defensive playmaker."
Those words were uttered by Mike Tomlin during his press conference Thursday night after the selection of Ryan Shazier. That answer was directed towards a question as to whether the Steelers addressed a position of need with the pick of Shazier. Tomlin's reply is spot-on. As I wrote, time and time again, the Steelers need playmakers. Shazier, with his speed and athleticism, gives the Steelers more opportunities for turnovers and plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Moreover, an weakness for the Steelers last year was their inability to stop the run with their Nickel defense. This, arguably, is what cost the Steelers the Miami game last year. Having a linebacker that can play both the run and pass on all three downs is a huge advantage. What do we mean by covering the pass? Here is a great example:
On this play, Shazier does a great job playing as the seam, curl-flat defender. He jams the vertical threat and keeps a low leverage position on the receiver's inside shoulder. This forces the QB to try fit the ball between Shazier and the safety. Shazier's low shoulder position also allows him to react to any crossing routes.
Shazier plays the that route like a safety, but he can also play the traditional, in the box linebacker. He plays the cutback on this inside zone run play very well:
Shazier plays the cutback patiently, stays in a good leveraged, position, and he finishes the run well. As I mentioned, however, the Steelers played the run well in their base. Where they struggled was when teams spread them out and ran against their nickel personnel.
Shazier shows against Clemson, that he can also play the spread run well:
Ryan Shazier is an interesting combination of youth and experience. He is only 21 years old, but he played a lot of football at Ohio State. People can argue about his position, but who cares? At Ohio State, he lined up as an inside linebacker, and he lined up as an outside linebacker. No one was ever criticized for being able to do too much. Shazier is not just some workout warrior - he started three games as a true freshman, had five sacks his sophomore year, and had seven sacks last year while leading the Big 10 in tackles.
Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, and now Ryan Shazier. The Steelers defense has some serious speed and athleticism at every level of their defense.