Shazier may be just what Steelers need

PITTSBURGH -- The collective groans that echoed off the hills Thursday night in western Pennsylvania were a result of what the Pittsburgh Steelers' brain trust decided when a player who seemed to be a perfect fit -- and would have filled their most glaring need -- was still on the board at No. 15.

The Steelers (gasp!) passed on a physical cornerback who can cover and hit to take an inside linebacker who can run and hit.

It is way too early to tell whether the Steelers erred in bypassing Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard with the 15th overall pick and taking Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.

But I like the decision because it turned out to be a bold one rather than a safe one. And the Steelers need bold rather than safe after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

"What we needed is a defensive playmaker," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "and he fits the bill in that regard."

He does on paper.

Shazier is ridiculously fast -- he said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at Ohio State's pro day -- and the 6-1, 237-pounder has the kind of range that general manager Kevin Colbert said is needed to defend against offenses that become more spread out with each passing year.

As glowingly as Colbert and Tomlin spoke of Shazier shortly after they made him the third Ohio State player the Steelers have picked in the first round since 2006, they caught just about everyone off guard with the selection.

That includes Shazier as well as anyone who did a mock draft.

"I didn't see it coming at all," Shazier said during a teleconference with Pittsburgh reporters. "I feel like it's going to be great that I'm in Pittsburgh. I'm happy I'm here."

Steelers fans who were upset by this pick will be too if Shazier helps shore up a run defense that allowed 6.5 rushing yards per carry outside of the tackles in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And he bolsters the inside pass rush, something Colbert said he will do.

The Steelers will play Shazier at weakside inside linebacker, pairing him with Lawrence Timmons, the player they took when they last had the 15th overall pick in 2007.

They will turn a position that had been suspect into a strength if Shazier is as good as the Steelers think he will be after finishing among Ohio State's career tackles leader.

"This guy can flat-out run," Colbert said. "We're well aware of who we have on our team, but when we can add a player of quality it will override the need at any time. This kid has a unique ability to make plays. We're super excited he was there for us."

The fans might not share Colbert's view, and they surely took note that the Bengals were more than happy to take Dennard after he slipped to them at No. 24.

But it is better for the Steelers to make fans happier in October than in May, and they will do that if Shazier becomes a playmaker in the middle of Pittsburgh's defense.

"Quite frankly the young man's got no holes," Tomlin said.