Last week, NFL Network’s website posted an article asking several panelists who they believe would be one of the next breakout stars for the 2016 season. Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor was on that panel, and it may not surprise you to learn that his choice was a member of his old team.
Taylor, who last played for the team during the 2014 season after a 12-year career, began working for NFL Network in August of 2015, and, to be quite honest, whenever he has been asked for his opinion on topics such as this, I have noticed a pretty strong correlation between players that he selects and players that are on the Steelers. But hey, I’m not complaining. And I don’t think he’s wrong either.
Taylor’s selection for the breakout star of the 2016 season was third-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ 2014 first-round draft pick, who was a day-one starter, and whose primary obstacle thus far in his short career has been simply his health, as he has missed about a dozen games in his first two seasons for a variety of injuries. He missed four games last season due to a shoulder injury, and also missed about a half of one game due to a concussion.
Taylor was not ignorant of that fact, with his by-line stating, “Steelers’ Ryan Shazier is going to be first-time Pro Bowler if he can stay healthy”. That seems to be an emerging opinion, particularly when considering the sort of impact plays that he was able to make late in the season, including in the playoffs.
Describing him as “a very talented linebacker”, Taylor notes that Shazier “can cover, blitz, pass rush and tackle”. In 12 games last year, he put up 87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four passes defensed, an interception, and two forced fumbles. He added another crucial forced fumble in the playoffs, among two fumbles, two passes defensed, and 20 total tackles in two playoff games.
Noting the games that he has missed during his first two years, Taylor writes that “if Shazier can stay on the field for an entire season, I think he’ll be a first-time Pro Bowler. The Steelers did not send a defensive player to the Pro Bowl last season, though Lawrence Timmons represented the unit in 2014.
Taylor finished off by likening Shazier to former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, saying that he “was banged up and was unable to reach his full potential” while in Pittsburgh. Now, “he’s staying healthy and producing major numbers because of it”. Sanders suffered fractures in both of his feet during the Super Bowl in his rookie season, and missed six games in his second year.
Shazier will only turn 24 around the start of the regular season, and he has already established himself as the defense’s signal caller, a role in which he has gained great comfort this offseason. Many are expecting a big jump from him in 2016, his third season, and not without good reason. Taylor is just one of many, in my opinion, who are seeing that potential.