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Predicting the Steelers 2019 End of the Year Awards: Part 2

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Speculation about who will shine (or not) this coming season in Black & Gold.

NFL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I posted an article earlier today projecting who would be the Steelers’ 2019 MVP, Rookie of the Year, and other familiar awards. In this piece, part 2 of the same project, I wanted to speculate about some less traditional “awards” for the upcoming season.

Just like with the previous essay, I’ll include a short descriptor to each, and make a case for who I’ve picked. But I’ll also include a poll for each category, including “other” as an option (in case you feel like I missed an important choice).

My goal, as always, is to start a few arguments in the comments section, so have at it. Also, since there is an opportunity to revisit this stuff at midseason or the end of the year, if anyone has a suggestion for a category to add, toss it out in the comments. On with the show. Go Steelers.

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

People’s Choice Award: Jaylen Samuels
Biggest (projected) Disappointment: Backfield Creativity
Pleasant Surprise: Interceptions on the Rise
Weakest Link: Kick Coverage
Strongest Unit: Offensive Line
Unsung Hero: Javon Hargrave
Biggest Loss: Darryl Drake
Addition by Subtraction: Antonio Brown
Biggest Wish for Regular Season: 6-0 division record


People’s Choice Award

This is a good place to start. I’m inventing this award because I think there are guys that, every time they do something (anything), we all get stoked. I imagine Brett Keisel would have won this a few years ago, or Juju in his rookie season (with his stolen bike and his knockout hit on Vontaze Burfict). I admit, it was hard to come up with a list this round. Who do you expect to say, “man, I love this guy!” at least once or twice per game?

Poll

People’s Choice Award

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    (156 votes)
  • 5%
    Jaylen Samuels
    (23 votes)
  • 9%
    Alejandro Villanueva
    (40 votes)
  • 28%
    Devin Bush
    (118 votes)
  • 15%
    Tuzar Skipper
    (65 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (7 votes)
409 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Jaylen Samuels. I think Samuels will see the field a lot this year, and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to get pumped. He solidified the RB2 spot in the preseason, and despite his jack-of-all-trades past (his first 100 yard rushing game at any level was against the Pats last year) he looks like a professional running back to me. One with great hands, good size, an understanding of multiple positions, and a low ego. How can you not root for this guy?


Biggest Disappointment

This is not really an “award” of course. I’m thinking of it as an element of the team that appears to be a strength (or at least solid), but which you think will wind up disappointing us all. Nothing would make me happier than to have all of these areas remain strengths, but no one can know just yet.

Poll

Biggest Disappointment

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Return Game
    (173 votes)
  • 10%
    Backfield Creativity
    (39 votes)
  • 19%
    Rookies beyond Bush
    (74 votes)
  • 8%
    Wide Receivers beyond JuJu
    (34 votes)
  • 11%
    Nothing will disappoint us!
    (43 votes)
  • 6%
    Other
    (25 votes)
388 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Backfield Creativity. A frequent hobby horse of mine has been that the Steelers never deploy a flexible two-back offense when they have multiple good backs (it made me crazy, for example, how Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams never took the field together, even though either could line up literally anywhere). I’d love to be proven wrong this year, with Samuels and Conner running, catching, and blocking all over the field, allowing the team to dramatically shift schemes and formations without allowing the defense to adjust or substitute. I’d love that, but I’ll believe it when I see it.


Pleasant Surprise

This is the opposite of the Biggest Disappointment: the area that we’re most concerned about based on recent history, but that you predict will be a strength this season.

Poll

Pleasant Surprise

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Kick Returns
    (12 votes)
  • 11%
    Coach’s Challenges
    (41 votes)
  • 64%
    Interceptions on the Rise
    (238 votes)
  • 11%
    Penalties Down
    (44 votes)
  • 7%
    Tight End Depth
    (26 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (10 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Interceptions on the Rise. Last year, as interceptions plummeted, the Steelers also gave up few big plays. This reads to me like a defense playing safe with their new coach and rookie strong safety. Year two with Tom Bradley (now featuring Teryl Austin) is one reason to believe confidence (and consequently, takeaways) will improve. Terrell Edmunds’ year two leap is another. And Steven Nelson (replacing Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh) is a third.


Weakest Link

This one is probably self-explanatory. In choosing the options, I decided to emphasize units rather than individual players, since players could be replaced if they aren’t measuring up. For example, if we thought the weak link last year was “CB2,” it wasn’t just Coty Sensabaugh; it was all the guys behind him too, who couldn’t beat him out.

Poll

Weakest Link

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Second Tight End
    (229 votes)
  • 8%
    Second Cornerback
    (33 votes)
  • 10%
    Kick/Punt Returners
    (38 votes)
  • 9%
    Safeties
    (34 votes)
  • 8%
    Kick Coverage
    (32 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (10 votes)
376 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Kick coverage. I strongly considered TE2 as well, but kick coverage always scares me. Maybe I’ve got PTSD from past years (because the coverage teams weren’t bad last year) but every time a team returns a kickoff or punt against the Steelers, I get nervous that they’re going all the way. I also have to add that holding and illegal blocking flags seem to fall way too often on thi steam. Maybe that’s also just perception — maybe it happens to everyone (I also admit, I often don’t see the hold, so that doesn’t help). But it all adds up to make the coverage teams my most nerve-wracking unit, and my pick for weakest link.


Strongest Unit

Opposite of the Weakest Link, this entry is about the top of the depth chart, but also the depth itself. Which positional group is the strongest, top to bottom?

Poll

Strongest Unit

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Wide Receivers
    (23 votes)
  • 53%
    Offensive Line
    (197 votes)
  • 25%
    Defensive Line
    (92 votes)
  • 14%
    Linebackers
    (55 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
367 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Offensive Line. Man, I wanted to pick outstanding defensive line for this, but there is just too much strength on the O-Line. Three All Pros will do that for you. The veterans on the line are also a reason for optimism, as the team transitions from Mike Munchak to Shaun Sarrett — they won’t need as much mentorship as they would if they were a bunch of high-upside rookies. Hard to believe that just a few years ago this line was one of the worst in football. With smart drafting and good coaching, these guys are now one of the best.


Biggest Loss

A team can feel the absence of a missing coach in a lot of ways – sometimes it’s because their physical presence is missing; sometimes it’s their leadership; sometimes it’s their intelligence.

Poll

Biggest Loss

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Darryl Drake
    (97 votes)
  • 45%
    Mike Munchak
    (170 votes)
  • 1%
    Darrius Heyward-Bey
    (5 votes)
  • 10%
    Antonio Brown
    (38 votes)
  • 15%
    Jesse James
    (59 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (5 votes)
374 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Darryl Drake. I didn’t know much about Drake before he passed away this summer, but he certainly seems to have left a mark among the players. It’s possible that that legacy will galvanize the WRs to win in his honor. It’s also possible (even likely) Ray Sherman will be a terrific WR coach. But with a young WR room, whose veteran leader is 23, a father figure, like Drake appeared to have been, seems very valuable.


Addition by Subtraction

The opposite of Biggest Loss, this one is about getting rid of dead weight. It doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, though it probably sounds that way. The big question is: who’s departure will help the Steelers improve the most?

Poll

Addition by Subtraction / Best Loss

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Antonio Brown
    (269 votes)
  • 10%
    Joey Porter
    (38 votes)
  • 9%
    The ghost of Le’Veon Bell
    (36 votes)
  • 3%
    Morgan Burnett
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (5 votes)
362 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Antonio Brown. I don’t think I need to say much here. That lunatic will be blowing up the Raiders’ locker room all year.


Unsung Hero

This is also probably self-explanatory, but let’s say the Unsung Hero is a secret weapon of sorts – a player who doesn’t get his due in the talking head world, or even sometimes down here among the fans, but who does the damned job and does it well.

Poll

Unsung Hero

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Roosevelt Nix
    (82 votes)
  • 17%
    Vince Williams
    (60 votes)
  • 38%
    Javon Hargrave
    (133 votes)
  • 13%
    Ramon Foster
    (45 votes)
  • 6%
    Other
    (22 votes)
342 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Javon Hargrave. J-Wobble is one of the most underrated players on the Steelers D, and relative to his production, one of the most underutilized players in football. Despite playing limited snaps and primarily at nose, he registered 6.5 sacks last year, while also eating up blockers like a good interior lineman. I’ve been making his case for a couple years now: scheme this guy onto the field and the team will be better for it.


Biggest Wish for the Regular Season

I’m not including “Steelers win the Super Bowl” because that’s too easy. I’m also not including any of the steps along the way (like “Steelers go undefeated” or “Steelers get the 1-seed”). Those things are all too obvious – we all want them. Instead, these options are a little more modest, and therefore both likelier and more debatable.

Poll

Biggest Wish for the Regular Season

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    6-0 Division Record
    (100 votes)
  • 12%
    Offense improves without AB/LB
    (44 votes)
  • 7%
    Devin Bush wins NFL Rookie of the Year
    (28 votes)
  • 31%
    Defense is top 5 in interceptions and sacks
    (112 votes)
  • 19%
    Strong Start out of the gate
    (70 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
356 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: 6-0 division record. This would almost certainly clinch the division for the Steelers (unless they tanked the rest of their schedule, which seems unlikely). It would also have the added benefit of silencing the yapping in Cleveland, and tweaking the Ravens (who had no business winning the division last year).


With that, go Steelers!