The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for their historically great defenses. Here are two defensive legends that tested nearly identical before entering the league.
When it comes to evaluating NFL talent, testing numbers are just one piece of the puzzle among many that should be considered. Obviously, a player’s tape, technique, work ethic, and statistical production are all factors scouts and general managers take into consideration before deciding on whether or not to draft a player. Fortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they found the best combination of all of these things with a few stars they drafted.
Though they played entirely different positions in the NFL, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier are two Steelers legends whose testing numbers were incredibly similar prior to entering the league – and they were nothing short of miraculous. Here are their numbers, according to Relative Athletic Scores (RAS):
Two of the #Steelers most athletic defensive players in my life had very similar testing numbers coming out despite playing different positions:
Troy Polamalu vs. Ryan Shazier: pic.twitter.com/iA1J5RfP3s
— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) July 8, 2020
While you may be wondering what is significant about this, take a moment to reflect on just how impressive these numbers truly are. There are plenty of athletic players who enter the league and don’t work out, but Polamalu and Shazier were both legitimate first-round prospects in addition to having elite athleticism for their respective positions.
Because of their spectacular physical traits, it wasn’t shocking to see both players become elite playmakers in the NFL. Polamalu earned 32 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 12.0 sacks, and 2 defensive touchdowns in 142 NFL starts, while Shazier recorded 6 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries, and 3.5 sacks in the final 25 games of his career alone.
While both players possessed terrific football instincts and aggressive demeanor, their supreme athleticism helped take their game to an entirely new level.
Polamalu had the recovery speed to line up at the line of scrimmage and still fluidly drop back into coverage without a hitch. Shazier could afford to take a false step or two and still find a way to get back into position.
Though their careers overlapped just one season in the NFL (2014), Pittsburgh was fortunate enough to go from one elite defensive playmaker to the next. Unfortunately, Shazier’s career was cut short. He was just 25 years old in his final season in 2017, as a spinal injury derailed an extremely promising NFL career that already consisted of two Pro Bowl appearances in his first four NFL seasons.
Polamalu was fortunate enough to play twelve seasons in the NFL despite his reckless, physical style of play. Though 6 of his seasons were cut short due to injuries, he still earned 4 first-team all Pros and a Defensive Player of the Year award en route to becoming a first-ballot Hall of Fame safety.
Polamalu and Shazier were special NFL players for a number of reasons, but their elite (and nearly identical) athletic traits separated them from the competition. Hopefully, the Pittsburgh Steelers can find this rare breed of player again soon.