Nobody knows right now whether or not he will ever play football again, but if he does not, then Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier will end his career, deservingly, as an outright Pro Bowler at the end of his fourth season in the NFL.
There are so much bigger things in the young man’s life now that such honors are little more than an afterthought. After undergoing spinal stabilization surgery, Shazier is in the process of beginning physical rehabilitation of a nature that has not been disclosed to the public as he deals with a very personal trial in his life.
But we here know best Ryan Shazier the football player, and it’s okay to still talk about that. He is still very much a part of this 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers team that is looking to win the Super Bowl for so many reasons, not the least of which being to honor their friend and brother.
Ironically, the former first-round pick was having the healthiest season of his career, having literally hardly even come off the field over the course of the first 11 games of the season. That changed in a sudden and tragic fashion early in that next game against the Bengals.
But up to that point, it would be fair to say that he was one of the best and dynamic defensive players in the league, and certainly at his position of inside linebacker. Through the first 11 games, he recorded 87 tackles, which tied his previous career high. At nearly eight tackles per game, that would have prorated out to about 127 tackles.
It is somewhat astounding that Shazier failed to record a sack this year, after having recorded three and a half in each of the past two seasons, though his brother, Vince Williams, made up for it with seven of his own. But he was still a dynamic and disruptive blitzer.
In addition to that, he was perhaps the most impactful linebacker in coverage in the NFL. He recorded three interceptions, sure, but that was coupled with 11 passes defensed. That is still the most among all non-defensive backs in the NFL.
In addition to the three turnovers that he created for himself in interceptions, Shazier also produced a pair of forced fumbles, as he continued to be the biggest creator of splash plays on the defense, and one of the best in the NFL.
While his incredible sideline-to-sideline speed did contribute to a high number of missed tackles, some of those missed tackles still led to positive plays for the defense. And he made many tackles that just about any other linebacker in the NFL would be unable to make.
Shazier’s body of work through the first 11 games of the season, I have no doubt in my mind, legitimately entitles him to the distinction of being a Pro Bowl starting linebacker. He showed that he could conquer the sport and play at the highest level. I can only hope that he has as much success in the war he has ahead of him.