We, the writers of Steeler Nation, have spent the last five months opining, spewing obscure statistics and analyzing every aspect of the 2017 draft class except shoe size and sleep patterns. Training camp is here. The interminable off-season is behind us.
Let’s kick it off with some post-season award predictions.
Rookie of the Year
Outside Linebacker T.J. Watt
It feels a little like a cop-out to choose the team’s number-one draft pick as their Rookie of the Year, but the reality is that he’s going to see the most playing time, and has the greatest chance to make an impact. While he will likely rotate with ageless veteran James Harrison early in the season, Watt will be used more and more as he grows into the role. Given how quickly he progressed in his lone year as a starter at outside linebacker in college, there is little reason to believe he won’t acclimate quickly at the next level.
Other possibilities here are second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will likely see playing time in the slot but faces stiff competition from the incumbent Eli Rogers; and third-round pick Cameron Sutton, who could end up as the team’s slot cornerback. Sutton also has competition, though: longtime Steeler William Gay is likely going to begin the season as the slot corner, and hopefuls Senquez Golson -- a former second-round pick who missed his first two seasons with injuries — and free-agent pick-up Coty Sensabaugh will push Sutton hard. Running back James Conner will likely see the field about as much as DeAngelo Williams did the last two years, which is to say, “not all that much.” And the late-round picks will be facing an uphill climb just to make an already crowded roster.
Offensive Player of the Year
Wide Receiver Martavis Bryant
For a team that has weapons at every level of the offense, the return of their number-two receiver after a yearlong suspension is going to be huge. So far, when on the field, the only thing that really stood in Bryant’s way has been...Bryant himself. Concentration lapses aside, Bryant has proven his ability to both make huge plays and to draw significant coverage to his side of the field, opening things up for All-Everything receiver Antonio Brown and, now, the combination of Rogers and Smith-Schuster. In 2016, Life Without Martavis proved to be a story of the Steelers relying far too heavily on Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. Bryant’s presence will be as palpable in 2017 as his absence was in 2016, and he will be rewarded for it.
Defensive Player of the Year
Outside Linebacker Bud Dupree
After missing the first nine games of the 2016 season, as well as all of training camp, Dupree took a few games to get back up to speed. Once he did, though? It was a sight to behold. He picked up 4.5 sacks and 15 tackles in the final four games of the regular season, and followed that up with half a sack and 10 tackles in the playoffs. If he stays healthy all season long, look for at least 10 sacks and 50 tackles from Dupree. Combined with Harrison and Watt, the outside linebackers should finally be a strength again.
Most Valuable Player
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
With more offensive weapons at his disposal than ever, and one of the top three offensive lines in the league, Roethlisberger is well-positioned to lead his team to a stellar season. He has, potentially, five very capable wide receivers — including the best in the NFL in Brown. He has Le’Veon Bell, who needs no further discussion. He has Jesse James at tight end. He’s loaded down with talent around him. If he stays healthy, there is no reason why this can’t be the best offense in the NFL -- and it all starts with the quarterback.