The Pittsburgh Steelers selected inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. That was a year after they selected outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and a year before they selected outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
In other words, Shazier has been able to get a good look at both of them, but more of Dupree, as he has gotten the opportunity to see his entire career to date. And he is liking what he sees as the pass-rusher heads into his third season with the team.
“I definitely feel like he can be a huge difference-maker for us”, Shazier told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a big, huge guy. You’re not going to be able to run the ball on him. He’s going to keep his leverage so he can make plays. He brings a lot of things to the table that we didn’t have before”.
I think that last sentence is key for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it perhaps unintentionally brings to mind a contrast between Dupree and Jones. And for another, it also speaks to Dupree’s future. The Steelers intend for him to be a lot more active and mobile in 2017 in comparison to his rookie year and last season’s injury-truncated campaign.
An extremely athletic specimen, the Steelers are likely going to count on Dupree to be a bit of a wildcard on defense as somebody that they can drop into coverage a lot and move around, even stick him over a tight end in the slot on occasion.
They’re expecting big things from him. He is expecting big things from himself. But many are just relieved right now that, after last year, he is actually able to practice. “It’s just good to see him healthy”, Shazier told Rutter. “Last year, he wasn’t really that way. Jumping on the train during the season is kind of hard. I know it was tough on him because I’ve had to do it a few times, going back and forth, back and forth”.
Shazier has missed games due to injury mid-season in each of his first three years, so he certainly speaks from experience. And he also talked recently about how he is able to play better and build up momentum the longer he stays healthy, and thus, on the field.
Shazier and Dupree are two of the biggest pieces on this Steelers defense, not just for the 2017 season, but, under the best-case scenario, for the better part of the next decade. Premium talents acquired via premium resources, it is imperative that they become premium players.
Shazier is already well on his way, barring health. Dupree has shown flashes, as everybody knows. But it’s this year that he has to take the next step and become that every-down threat, the kind of outside linebacker that has to be game-planned for.