When former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was drafted to Pittsburgh in 2014, he had a lot of expectations laid upon him. He was the Steelers’ first inside linebacker drafted in the first round since Lawrence Timmons in 2007, and was tasked by the team to become their next great middle linebacker along with the likes of Jack Lambert and James Farrior.
“I started the first day I got there” Shazier said. “Most people don’t start the first day they get there. I didn’t even know the playbook yet. So I’m over here like ‘Strong right’ and then Cam [Heyward] and everyone else is like “No it’s strong left!’ I’m like ‘We’re doing this,’ and they’re like, ‘No we’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to check this, you’re supposed to check that.’ As a rookie I don’t know what I’m doing, give me a break.”
Shazier had a lot on his plate his first year in the league and him dealing with injuries did not help him. While he certainly did not have a bad rookie season, it was not very good either. However, all the pressure created a diamond with him as he got better and better each year. Shazier even credits all the chaos and high expectations of his first year in Pittsburgh with helping him grow as a player.
“To me, it helped me learn through chaos. And that really helped me out a lot and I ended up progressing from it.”
Being the signal caller of the defense is a difficult job, and since the retirements of Shazier and Vince Williams, the Steelers have had a rotating door of linebackers wearing the “green dot.” Devin Bush wore it for a little bit but had some injuries and struggles with it leading it to bounce around since.
Having a linebacker comfortable with calling the plays on defense is so important as they have to get everyone in the right position and make sure every defender is on the same page. Shazier was great at that, and is why despite the defense being on the weaker side of talent, they still finished the season ranked relatively high.
Shazier continued to grow as a player and defensive signal caller through his first couple of seasons, but really started to become an elite player in the 2016 season. As the Steelers were fighting for a playoff spot Shazier forced a turnover in the final two games of the regular season and then in the playoffs he recorded an interception in the Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins and then again in the Divisional Round game at the Kansas City Chiefs.
In his final season, 2017, he was on pace to likely be an All-Pro as he was the leader of a pretty good Steelers defense but then unfortunately his career ended as he was paralyzed trying to make a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals. To put into context how important Shazier was to that Steelers defense. In 2017, before his injury the defense allowed 19.3 points per game. Afterwards, they allowed 26.6 points per game.
The pressure the Steelers initially put on Shazier created a diamond. Despite his career ending early he will always be a Steelers fan favorite, and more importantly, he has made almost a full recovery since his injury.