Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers confirmed the obvious, placing Ryan Shazier on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list, thus cancelling his entire 2018 season. It was no shock that Shazier would miss the upcoming season as GM Kevin Colbert told the world back in February that the injured linebacker would not play in 2018.
Without their playmaking linebacker, the Steelers have faced one question this entire offseason – how do you replace a player of Shazier’s caliber?
Before diving in to how to replace a player of Shazier’s talent, the question of what exactly the Steelers are replacing must be answered. The easy answer is the team is attempting to replace a sideline to sideline linebacker with incredible instincts, athleticism and quickness. It is a simple answer but one that still does not do Shazier justice. Instead, let’s look at what the linebacker’s skill translated to on the field by looking at all the turnovers he has caused in his brief stint in the league.
In Shazier’s first four seasons in the NFL (including playoffs), the linebacker has nine interceptions and nine forced fumbles with five of those fumbles being recovered by the Steelers. It is not only his ability to create turnovers but the ability to make a big play when the Steelers needed it the most, as many of Shazier’s turnovers brought huge momentum shifts with them.
All of Shazier’s turnovers have been documented below, along with the score at the time of the turnover and how the Steelers offense performed in the following drive. In many of these cases, Shazier was the spark the team needed to change the tide in their favor.
The Steelers have scored 56 points and averaged over a field goal’s worth of points on drives that followed a Shazier turnover. Only in four occasions did Shazier’s turnovers not result in any points, though in one occasion it was a game sealing interception (Christmas Day vs Ravens) and in another, the Steelers drove all the down to the red zone before being intercepted (2017 Divisional Game vs Chiefs). Let’s not forget to mention that Steelers have gone 11-2 in games that Shazier has forced a turnover.
The truth is that there may not be a clear-cut solution on how to replace the big play ability that Shazier brought to the table. Since 2015, only one linebacker has nabbed more regular season interceptions than the Steelers linebacker, that one player being the Panthers’ Luke Kuechly.
With a defense that has thrived under big play stars such as Shazier and Troy Polamalu, the Steelers defense heads into a season without a game changing player for the first time since 2002, the year prior to Polamalu’s arrival. Though the team hopes recently drafted safety Terrell Edmunds can be next in line in the list of playmakers.
Edmunds is another highly athletic player with great speed and big play potential. In his final two seasons at Virginia Tech, the safety recorded six interceptions and one forced fumble. And with the ability to play center field or in the box, he may be a big part of the team’s solution to replace the big play ability of Shazier.