Why The Steelers Passed On C.J. Mosley


Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is getting a lot of NFL Rookie of the Year buzz.

He's rated as the NFL's top inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus (PFF). He's fourth in the NFL in tackles (76), and is proving to be a playmaker with two interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

The Steelers, unknowingly, passed on all of that in May's draft.

Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh was also in the market for an inside linebacker, but drafted Ohio State's Ryan Shazier with the 15th-overall pick. The Ravens took Mosley two picks later.

It could be a decision that has long-lasting implications in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry.

So why did the Steelers pick Shazier over Mosley?

According to Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, it boils down to Shazier playing at Ohio State.

The Steelers' connection to Ohio State is like the Ravens' association to Alabama through General Manager Ozzie Newsome. Longtime Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is a former Buckeye, so the Steelers have close ties with Ohio State's program, specifically on defense.

"It wasn't us selecting [Shazier] over Mosley," Tomlin said. "It was more about what we knew about him we had a level of comfort with.

"We have a close, personal relationship with his program, and with their defensive coaches specifically. They spend a lot of time over here during the offseason and have for a number of years, particularly the years he was there. We had taken [defensive end] Cam Heyward, who had played in that defense, in the first round a few years before. So it's more about that relationship and knowing the system in which he played and the parallels to ours."

The Ravens also draft in part because of college and system fits. It partly plays into why Baltimore took Mosley, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and nose tackle Terrence Cody in recent years.

Mosley said he never thought he was going to be in black and gold. It was ruled out early in the pre-draft process.

"When I was getting scouted, they pretty much told me I wasn't going to be a Steeler," Mosley said. "I'm fine with it. I'm at the right place and I'm glad I'm a rival with them."

Mosley has made the Steelers' lack of  interest look misguided. While Shazier's career is still in its infancy, he hasn't had nearly as good a start as Mosley.

Shazier missed four games because of a sprained knee, which he returned from last week. He has 24 tackles in four games, with his best performance coming in Week 2 in Baltimore, where he logged a season-high 11 stops – one more than Mosley that night.

Both rookies came out of college as a new breed of inside linebacker, with Shazier being perhaps a little more unusual. They're both smaller-framed, faster, more nimble players than  the old-school, broad-shoulder run stoppers. Mosley is 6-foot-2, 235 pounds. Shazier is 6-1, 237.

However, Mosley has really outshined Shazier in run defense. He has a plus-10.0 rating from PFF in run defense while Shazier is negative-1.7. Both players have a plus-0.5 rating in pass coverage.

Tomlin was complimentary of Mosley and the start of his career. "He's a quality player, but we knew that going into the draft," Tomlin said. "He's proven that with his play."

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