Ron Cook: Shazier selected for quality, not buzz



What?

You would have preferred the Steelers take Johnny Manziel?

You don't really prefer buzz over a quality football player, do you?

Is the overrated, overhyped, sickeningly self-promoting Manziel still on the NFL draft board, by the way?

OK, enough of Johnny (Deflated) Football, at least for now.

The Steelers never were interested in Manziel, which gave them something in common Thursday night with seemingly all of the other NFL clubs. Let's look at their first-round selection of Ohio State inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, taken No. 15 overall.

I get the confusion and dismay with the pick. Shazier isn't a cornerback, a position of desperate need on a Steelers team with old Ike Taylor, unproven Cortez Allen and little else. He's also not a wide receiver, another spot that needs strengthened after the off-season losses of free agents Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.

But don't lose sight of reality here. The Steelers were an 8-8 team last season. Actually, they were 8-8 in each of the past two seasons, failing to make the playoffs each year. They have many needs.

"What we needed was a defensive playmaker," coach Mike Tomlin said after emerging from the Steelers' draft room. "[Shazier] fits the bill in that regard. His production speaks for itself. He doesn't need my endorsement. This guy is going to make a lot of plays for us all over the football field."

The Steelers have a star at inside linebacker in Lawrence Timmons. But after that? Vince Williams? He was a starter last season by default after Larry Foote was injured and lost for the year in the first game and Kion Wilson failed as a replacement. Sean Spence? He still is trying to come back from a catastrophic knee injury in the 2012 preseason and has no guarantees of making it.

If you really think about it, Shazier makes perfect sense.

As long as he can play, of course.

"This was an easy evaluation," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said.

Of course, Colbert said that.

You expected him to say the Steelers picked a man they didn't like?

You might say Shazier blinded the Steelers' brass with his speed. Colbert said they timed him at 4.40 seconds in the 40. The team clearly put enough value in that to overlook Shazier's rather smallish size -- 6-foot-1, 237 pounds.

"This guy can flat out run," Colbert said. "As offenses continue to spread out, you need speed ... You need speed everywhere."

If nothing else, give the Steelers credit for making their defense their top priority. Going into the draft, they faced a dilemma with their No. 1 pick. Do they bolster a potent offense and try to outscore opponents in 2014? Or do they go for help for their troubled defense, their biggest weakness the past two seasons?

The Steelers made the right call going for defensive help. It still wins championships. I offer the Seattle Seahawks as proof. They beat the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl XLVIII last season, shutting down the greatest offense in the history of the game to do it.

A cornerback would have been nice with the first pick, but the top two -- Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller -- were gone before the Steelers picked. They passed on Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, who dropped like a rock through the draft, all the way to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 24.

A wide receiver also would have been wonderful, but the top guys at that position -- Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and LSU's Odell Beckham -- were off the board, as was North Carolina's Eric Ebron, who's more of a wide receiver than a tight end.

Reality check No. 2:

Colbert says this is the deepest draft in his 30 years in the NFL. The Steelers have eight more picks. They will be able to get at least one quality cornerback and wide receiver before Saturday night rolls around.

As for Manziel, he finally did find a home -- Cleveland. Somehow, it seems only right that the Browns took him with the No. 22 pick. They have been searching for decades for a franchise quarterback with no luck. Manziel will be another in their long line of busts. His reckless, free-wheeling style won't translate to NFL success. His undersized body won't stand up to the punishment.

So let Cleveland have the buzz for now.

It will wish it added another good player later.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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