PITTSBURGH -- Of the many things to like about the Pittsburgh Steelers picking Ryan Shazier in the first round of the NFL draft, here is another one: to peg him as just an inside linebacker is shortsighted.
"Ultimately, you're in sub packages so much that you really need to have guys that can match up, and that's what Shazier brings, and he brings pass-rushing ability," ESPN analyst Todd McShay said during a post-draft conference call. "I think they [the Steelers] get faster and more athletic with that pick alone."
Yes, they do.
"When we took Ryan, we talked about a defensive playmaker over anything else," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He fit the bill in that regard."
The speedy Shazier is also the kind of player defenses need in order to counter offenses that spread out and increasingly force defenses out of their base set.
"What's happening today is there are multiple receiver personnel groupings, like 60 to 65 percent of the time," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "[Shazier] fits the part of the game that is starting to put faster people on the field."
Shazier ran a sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Ohio State's pro day, and he is so fast that Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake asked Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby during a pre-draft visit if Shazier could play safety.
And he wasn't joking.
"There is no reason why he couldn't play safety," said Lake, the former Steelers standout who played safety and cornerback during his 13-year NFL career. "This guy is big and fast and aggressive. If for some reason Keith Butler doesn't like him, I'll take him."
That's not going to happen.
But Shazier is going to line up at different spots because of his speed, versatility and ability to play in space.
"He has the athleticism to drop back into coverage and match up," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "He has speed. He's going to get on people quicker than they know because he's very fast."
Shazier is not even the fastest player in the Steelers' draft class -- third-round pick Dri Archer takes that honor -- which shows how much of a premium Pittsburgh put on adding speed through the draft.
"I think you covet speed, but it's football, not a track meet," Tomlin said. "If you get a capable football player who happens to be fast, it's an asset. Speed players that we were able to acquire in this draft fit that bill: football players first who happen to be extremely fast."