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Steelers Shazier, Bryant Tabbed AFC North Rising Star Candidates By ESPN

The ESPN AFC North beat writers are continuing their Q & A sessions with each other ahead of training camps getting underway and they all recently chimed in with their thoughts on which players should be considered rising stars within the division.

Jeremy Fowler, who covers the Steelers, chose second-year linebacker Ryan Shazier.

“Shazier has ridiculous speed for the position; he ran an unofficial 40 of 4.36 seconds at Ohio State’s pro day. He will rack up 100-plus tackles in Keith Butler’s 3-4 defense because of his open-field tackling ability, especially in pass coverage,” wrote Fowler.

Shazier’s rookie season was interrupted by a few injuries and Fowler makes sure to note that the former first-round draft pick has to prove he can stay healthy in 2015. He also listed Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant as one of his candidates.

Bryant was, however, the primary choice of Pat McManamon, who covers the Cleveland Browns.

“Bryant’s development as a rookie might have caught the Steelers by surprise. He waited his turn, then took advantage when he got a chance — averaging 21.1 yards per reception, a figure that would have led the NFL, had he had 30 receptions (he had 26 and five in the playoffs),” wrote McManamon. “With Antonio Brown on the field, Bryant will see plenty of single coverage. He has a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who will find him. There will be opportunity, and Bryant should take advantage.”

While there are a few legitimate rising star candidates listed by the ESPN AFC North beat writers, Bryant probably has the highest ceiling of all of them judging by what he accomplished during his rookie season. Anything less than 60 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2015 for Bryant will likely be viewed by most Steelers fans as being a disappointing season.

As for Shazier, he certainly is expected to hit the 100-tackle mark in 2015 and the hope is that most of those stats aren’t collected too far past the line of scrimmage. Additionally, as Fowler wisely points out, Shazier’s speed should help down the field in pass coverage.

Personally, I’m surprised that Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas didn’t at least receive a nod as an outlying rising star candidate as he’ll certainly be given the opportunity to become a big contributor on defense for the Steelers in 2015 after biding his time behind future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu. However, like Shazier, Thomas has to prove that he can stay on the field in 2015 as his first two seasons in the league were both interrupted by injuries.

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