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Predicting the Steelers 2019 End of the Year Awards: Part 1

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An educated guess at who will shine (or not) this coming season for the Black & Gold.

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Now that final rosters are (tentatively) set and the 2019 NFL season is on the horizon, the talking heads are all weighing in on All Pro picks, season records, and award predictions. I read these articles compulsively (and with some irritation), but it occurred to me last season that we never did that for just the Steelers. So below is a series of “awards” predictions that are specific to this Steelers team. I’m not going to predict the season record or post-season finish, just awards.

The article got a little long, so I’m putting it up in two parts. This essay, Part 1, will feature the more traditional awards (MVP, Rookie of the Year). Later today, I’ll post Part 2, with more invented categories to argue about. I’ll include a short descriptor to each, and I’ll make a case for who I’ve picked below, but I’ve also included a poll for each listing, including “other” as an option (in case you feel like I missed an important choice).

My goal is to start a few arguments in the comments section, and maybe help get Steelers Nation fired up and ready for the long haul ahead. If there’s interest, I’ll probably revisit these at mid-season and at the end of the year, adjusting as the campaign surprises us. (*Note: The Isaac Redman Award is not included below. It wasn’t mine to initiate, and it’s already being debated and voted on elsewhere.)

In any case, please make arguments, leave suggestions, and otherwise hash this out in the comments. On with the show. Go Steelers.

Here’s the shorthand version (with my picks). Explanations and polls to follow.

MVP: Ben Roethlisberger
Offensive POY: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Defensive POY: T.J. Watt
Rookie of the Year: Devin Bush
Newcomer of the Year: Steven Nelson
Comeback/Improved POY: Bud Dupree
Breakout Player: James Washington
Assistant Coach of the Year: Keith Butler
Game of the Year: Opener against New England


Most Valuable Player

Whether it’s NFL MVP or Super Bowl MVP, league voters are often wildly inconsistent in how they define “most valuable.” For my part, I think of MVP as somewhere between “the team’s best player” and “the hardest to replace.” That is, the guy who, if you lost him you’d feel it the most; not just because his backups are bad, but because he brings something you can’t get anywhere else.

Poll

MVP?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (508 votes)
  • 7%
    JuJu Smith Schuster
    (50 votes)
  • 9%
    James Conner
    (69 votes)
  • 5%
    T.J. Watt
    (40 votes)
  • 2%
    Cam Heyward
    (18 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (9 votes)
694 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Ben Roethlisberger. If MVP is truly Most “Valuable” player, then I can’t imagine anyone other than Big Ben getting this award. While his numbers will probably decline a little this year (I hope he doesn’t pass 675 times this season), I also expect them to remain superb. He’s also both the best sandlot player the league may have ever seen, and one of the finest surgeons of the era. But more importantly, this team knows they’re never out of a game when he’s on the field. He’s been around long enough that it’s easy to forget how great he is, but this is one of the least replaceable players in the entire league.


Offensive Player of the Year

I think of OPOY (or DPOY) as the player having the finest season. Stats matter (especially on the offense) but so does the eyeball test. Which player will have the most impressive season in 2019? Here are my candidates:

Poll

Offensive Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (89 votes)
  • 37%
    James Conner
    (234 votes)
  • 39%
    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    (245 votes)
  • 1%
    Vance MacDonald
    (12 votes)
  • 6%
    James Washington
    (42 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
624 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Juju Smith-Schuster. This came down to Conner or Juju for me. Durability was a factor, but I also predict Big Ben will spread the ball around a ton this year, which will keep the double-teams at bay, so teams won’t be able to take JJSS out of the game without paying a price. That could mean a huge season for the kid.


Defensive Player of the Year

Stats can affect DPOY, but with interior linemen eating up blockers and shutdown corners never being challenged, the eyeball test is at least as important. Who will be the most impressive defender in black and gold?

Poll

Defensive Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Cameron Heyward
    (82 votes)
  • 57%
    T.J. Watt
    (362 votes)
  • 18%
    Devin Bush
    (119 votes)
  • 4%
    Joe Haden
    (27 votes)
  • 5%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (36 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (8 votes)
634 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: T.J. Watt. Watt’s athleticism, tenacity, and motor impress me every time I watch him play. He’s one of the best in the game already, and if Bud Dupree’s game improves this year (as it’s looked in the preseason) we might see the kind of leap in Watt that James Harrison showed when Lamarr Woodley replaced Clark Haggans in 2008. With Woodley absorbing some of the double-teams James used to see, Deebo’s sack totals rose from 8.5 to 16 in one year. If T.J. makes a leap anything like that, look out.


Rookie of the Year

This is always tough to predict. For every 2003, with Mike Logan starting all year and Troy Polamalu on the bench, there’s a 2013, with Larry Foote’s preseason injury and sixth round rookie Vince Williams in the lineup all year. This year, though, feels like a season where a rookie will be a legit star for the Steelers.

Poll

Rookie of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Devin Bush
    (546 votes)
  • 2%
    Dionte Johnson
    (18 votes)
  • 1%
    Ulysses Gilbert III
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    Tuzar Skipper
    (40 votes)
  • 1%
    Kameron Kelly
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
624 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Devin Bush. If Bush winds up with the green dot helmet (i.e. if he’s calling the defensive plays as a rookie) and still playing with as much speed and decisiveness as he’s shown in the preseason, he’ll not only walk away with the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award, he’ll be in discussion for the league’s DPOY for a long time. Cross your fingers for this kid; he looks like the real thing.


Newcomer of the Year

With the Steelers making a splash in the free agency and trading market this season, I wanted to acknowledge that not all newcomers who matter are rookies. Who’s going to be the best pickup this season?

Poll

Newcomer of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Donte Moncrief
    (195 votes)
  • 19%
    Mark Barron
    (120 votes)
  • 42%
    Steven Nelson
    (258 votes)
  • 3%
    Unknown Tight End
    (21 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (9 votes)
603 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Steven Nelson. All of these guys figure to be legit contributors, but I think CB2 is the most vulnerable spot and so Nelson’s stabilizing presence (assuming he brings one) will be essential. He’s my pick.


Comeback Player of the Year

The Steelers don’t have a lot of guys returning from significant injury, so I’m thinking of this as both “comeback from injury” and “comeback from poor play.”

Poll

Comeback Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Bud Dupree
    (132 votes)
  • 18%
    Artie Burns
    (114 votes)
  • 58%
    Chris Boswell
    (352 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (3 votes)
601 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Bud Dupree. Boswell is probably the most consequential choice (and goodness, I’m rooting for him). But Bud looks like the real thing this preseason. I’m more of a Dupree supporter than most on this site (I remember him as a terror when he came back from injury in 2016). But he’s never really lived up to that promise in the years since. Switching his and Watt’s sides helped last year, but not enough. If Dupree can fulfill Gerry Dulac’s recent prediction (10.5 sacks), the whole defense will reap the benefits.


Breakout Player

This is different than “comeback” because these players aren’t guys who’ve proven they can play, then regressed or been injured, only to resurge this year. Instead, they’re players who I predict will come out of nowhere (or in some cases, out of mediocrity) and stand at the cusp of greatness. These are players who are becoming stars this season.

Poll

Breakout Player

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    James Washington
    (353 votes)
  • 8%
    Devin Bush
    (48 votes)
  • 23%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (139 votes)
  • 6%
    Jaylen Samuels
    (36 votes)
  • 0%
    B.J. Finney
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (6 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: James Washington. While I suspect/hope that the Steelers won’t pass the ball 43 times per game this season, I predict the passing game is about to get really exciting. And I think James Washington’s development will be one of the keys. He’s been killing it in the preseason; if his chemistry with Roethlisberger is half of what it is with Mason Rudolph, he’ll have a great campaign.


Assistant Coach of the Year

Despite how quiet the offseason has been, there was some real turnover on the coaching staff. Each of the guys below is either the new man on the job, or working directly with a new man (and new methods that come along with that).

Poll

Assistant Coach of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Randy Fichtner (OC)
    (127 votes)
  • 10%
    Sean Sarrett (OLine)
    (55 votes)
  • 17%
    Ray Sherman (WRs interim)
    (90 votes)
  • 24%
    Keith Butler (DC & OLBs)
    (131 votes)
  • 22%
    Tom Bradley / Teryl Austin (DBs)
    (121 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (4 votes)
528 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Keith Butler, as OLB coach. I think you could make a strong case for each of these guys, but Butler’s roots are with LBs. Moreover, I’m not convinced that Joey Porter was a grade-A coach. Preseason doesn’t tell us much, but the pass rush sure looked improved in August. This is probably wishful thinking, but I’m tossing a coin Butler’s way.


Game of the Year

It occurs to me that I’ve chosen all away-games for this list. These were just the ones that seemed most charged to me. Feel free to correct in the comments.

Poll

Game of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Opener at New England
    (210 votes)
  • 23%
    TNF at Cleveland
    (126 votes)
  • 2%
    Week 12 at the NY Jets
    (14 votes)
  • 19%
    Week 17 at Baltimore
    (105 votes)
  • 14%
    Whatever game is next on the schedule
    (79 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (12 votes)
546 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Opener against New England. The opener is always big, but to take down the Patriots in Foxboro on the night they raise the banner for their Steeler-tying sixth Lombardi, would be sweet.


Part 2 coming... Go Steelers.