Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) grabs San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) by the jersey as he scrambles in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Kaepernick got loose but was tackled down field. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
“It should’ve been Mosley.”
As the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 winded down to a heart-breaking, unceremonious end, swaths of Steelers fans found themselves looking across the field at their opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, and their young, star linebacker C.J. Mosley.
All-American. National Champion. No. 17 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. After a season in which he led his team in tackles and secured a Pro Bowl nod, Mosley appeared to be the next big linebacker.
What made that pill even harder to swallow was the fact that Mosley was still on the board when the Steelers selected their first-round pick in 2014; instead, the Steelers opted for speedy linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State. Shazier loudly juxtaposed Mosley’s Pro Bowl rookie season with a handful of missed games, several nagging injuries and involvement in a full-blown platoon by season’s end.
The Steelers made the wrong pick – at least, to some, it seemed that way.
One offseason and two games later, it appears as if we’ve been all wrong about Shazier. He looks like a future star.
Shazier was the unquestionable defensive MVP against the 49ers after accruing 15 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He dominated the San Francisco rushing attack and helped collapse Colin Kaepernick’s passing pocket by shooting gaps, and then quickly retreating to tackle the speedy quarterback. He crushed ball carries, made the correct reads and made his Pro Bowl teammate Lawrence Timmons look almost invisible.
Shazier is a rare talent; a lean, trim linebacker with the tenacity of a defensive tackle and the speedy of a safety. He’s rarely fooled by misreads and attacks running lanes with a controlled recklessness that gives him the look of a cruise missile.
Shazier’s Sunday performance looked to be more than that of a one-game wonder. He looked tremendous throughout the preseason, routinely making difficult plays and flashing his trademark explosiveness in several standout performances.
With detractors and Mosley extremists still running abundant, Shazier’s footing as a future superstar is still shaky outside the friendly confines of his locker room and home stadium. The term “potential” had been common in regards to Shazier, and perhaps his bar was set too high after becoming the first rookie defender in the Dick LeBeau era to earn a Week 1 starting nod. Perhaps anything less than a Mosley-ish rookie year would serve as a disappointment.
All cliché’s aside, the 2015 season is a new season, and the oft-injured, seemingly lost Ryan Shazier is gone. The new Ryan Shazier, the one who showed up against the 49ers on Sunday, appears to be the bright, glowing future the Pittsburgh linebacking corps has to look forward to.
With 14 games remaining on the schedule, Shazier has plenty of time to continue his high level of play and make a case for himself as one of the league’s best young linebackers.
Sunday was a preview of things to come and Shazier looks like the next great thing.