clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pittsburgh Steelers Post Season Awards, Part 1

New, comments

With the Steelers 2019 season now in the books, it’s time to take one more look at our preseason and midseason Steelers-specific “awards” predictions. 

Los Angeles Rams v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Back in September, I published a pair of two-part essays, giving my take on the Steelers-specific awards predictions, including a series of polls for Steelers Nation to weigh in. I ran a follow-up in November, and Steeler Nation responded. Now that the 2019 season has concluded, and we can look at the year as a whole, it’s time for one more round.

This article will close the door on Part 1, featuring traditional awards, such as MVP or Rookie of the Year. Later, I’ll post Part 2, with more-invented categories to argue about. I’ll include my preseason and midseason predictions, as well as the fan favorites, and then my updated choices, and a poll. (*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: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Offensive POY: David Decastro
Defensive POY: T.J. Watt
Rookie of the Year: Devin Bush
Newcomer of the Year: Steven Nelson
Comeback/Improved POY: Bud Dupree
Breakout Player: Diontae Johnson
Assistant Coach of the Year: Keith Butler
Game of the Year: SNF against Chargers


Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets

Most Valuable Player

Preseason Winner: Ben Roethlisberger (73%)
My Preseason Vote: Ben Roethlisberger

Midseason Winner: Minkah Fitzpatrick (57%)
My Midseason Vote: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Poll

Most Valuable Player

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    T.J. Watt
    (384 votes)
  • 28%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (168 votes)
  • 4%
    Cameron Heyward
    (24 votes)
  • 1%
    Chris Boswell
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Joe Haden
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
587 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Like my midseason selection of Fitzpatrick, my rationale is less about “best overall player” (though Fitzpatrick belongs in that conversation too) and more about “most valuable.” When Minkah arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers defense took a much publicized leap forward. The stats are well-known, but they only tell part of the story. Consider how important the free safety is to a defensive backfield, and how crucial communication is in that unit. Fitzpatrick’s ascent — immediately starting and making 1st team All Pro after joining the Steelers two games deep — is almost unthinkable.

The defense carried this team, and it was better in every way with him on it. I can’t imagine what this season would have looked like if Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert hadn’t pulled the trigger to bring him in this season.


Offensive POY

Preseason Winner: JuJu Smith-Schuster (39%), James Conner (38%)
My Preseason Choice: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Midseason Winner: James Conner (48%)
My Midseason Choice: James Conner

Poll

Offensive Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Diontae Johnson
    (202 votes)
  • 15%
    James Washington
    (78 votes)
  • 38%
    David Decastro
    (196 votes)
  • 2%
    Benny Snell Jr.
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    James Conner
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (22 votes)
512 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Choice: David DeCastro

Wow. How often does a guard get the Offensive Player of the Year award? Yikes. That said, Decastro is probably the only player on this offense to be consistently above the line. Even his fellow line-mates looked rough this year, either single-handedly causing multiple turnovers (Pouncey) or becoming flag-magnets at inopportune moments (Villanueva). Others I considered for this award (Diontae Johnson, Benny Snell Jr., and James Washington) were probably too inconsistent. Meanwhile, our preseason and midseason winners, Smith-Schuster and Conner, were both off their games all year and ultimately injured for too much of the campaign. And both cost the Steelers games early in the year with turnovers (as the QBs cost them games late).

Goodness, this defense looked better and better the longer that paragraph got…


Defensive POY

Preseason Winner: T.J. Watt (57%)
My Preseason Choice: T.J. Watt

Midseason Winner: T.J. Watt (68%)
My Midseason Choice: T.J. Watt

Poll

Defensive Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    T.J. Watt
    (436 votes)
  • 9%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (48 votes)
  • 2%
    Cameron Heyward
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    Joe Haden
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Steven Nelson
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Bud Dupree
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
511 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: T.J. Watt

Watt is the only player I’ve ever seen who was both a 1st team and 2nd team All Pro (making 1st team as an edge rusher and 2nd team as a pure linebacker). If that doesn’t speak to his unique and transcendent talent, I don’t know what would.

Watt was almost certainly the most talented Steeler in 2019. He delivered in historic fashion, putting up James Harrison-like numbers in sacks, forced fumbles, and tackles for losses. And, like Fitzpatrick, it’s hard to imagine this team winning half its games if Watt weren’t on the squad. He’s been a front-runner for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year all season, and he’s my pick for the Steelers DPOY. He and Fitzpatrick are probably co-MVP and co-DPOY, and I wouldn’t argue is you swapped them here.


Rookie of the Year

Preseason Winner: Devin Bush (88%)
My Preseason Choice: Devin Bush

Midseason Winner: Devin Bush (94%)
My Midseason Choice: Devin Bush

Poll

Rookie of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Devin Bush
    (337 votes)
  • 29%
    Diontae Johnson
    (143 votes)
  • 1%
    Bennie Snell Jr.
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Devlin Hodges
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
491 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Devin Bush

Diontae Johnson gave Bush a run for his money late in the year, leading the team in receiving and surprising this writer as a 2nd team All Pro kick returner, but I still believe Devin Bush was the class of this rookie group. Bush solidified the middle of the field for the Steelers powerful defense, leading the team in tackles and fumble recoveries, and allowing the rest of the D to roam more freely, knowing they wouldn’t have to clean up his messes or look over his shoulder the way they have with ILBs since Ryan Shazier went down. Bush’s stats slowed down a little mid-season (as the team limited his pitch count to stave off the rookie wall), but if he has the predicted second-year leap, he’ll be a Pro Bowler for years to come.

As a side note, this was a really impressive rookie class. Benny Snell Jr., Devlin Hodges, or even Isaiah Buggs would have been legit options for this award most years, but they barely merit a mention behind Bush and Johnson this year. Wow.


Newcomer of the Year

Preseason Winner: Steven Nelson (43%)
My Preseason Choice: Steven Nelson

Midseason Winner: Steven Nelson (51%) (with asterisk for Minkah Fitzpatrick, who I forgot to include initially – 16%)
My Midseason Choice: Steven Nelson

Poll

Newcomer of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Steven Nelson
    (145 votes)
  • 67%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (322 votes)
  • 0%
    Devin Bush
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Diontae Johnson
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Marc Barron
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
478 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Steven Nelson

This is probably Fitzpatrick’s award, but I’m tossing the love Nelson’s way because, for once, the second cornerback was a strength on this team instead of a weak link. The Steelers have often had a strong CB1 (Joe Haden, Ike Taylor), but I can’t remember the last time this team had a shut-down man on the opposite side. Dwayne Woodruff/Rod Woodson? Honestly, it might be that long ago. If the CB2 spot was still Coty Sensabaugh or Artie Burns — or even Cameron Sutton, who has genuine promise — this defense would have been much less effective. Nelson is, very quietly, one of the most important “straws that stir the drink.”


Comeback/Improved POY

Preseason Winner: Chris Boswell (59%)
My Preseason Choice: Bud Dupree

Midseason Winner: Bud Dupree (55%)
My Midseason Choice: Chris Boswell

Poll

Comeback/Improved Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Bud Dupree
    (206 votes)
  • 52%
    Chris Boswell
    (248 votes)
  • 2%
    James Washington
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Jordan Berry
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
469 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Bud Dupree

We’ve been going back and forth in these articles between Dupree and Boswell, and the truth is that they’re both truly deserving. The best part is that they were both excellent all year, rather than flashing and tailing off. I’ll go with Dupree here in the hopes that he’ll see this article and feel touched and decide to sign with the Steelers this off-season. But these guys both rocked this year. Who’d have seen that coming?


Breakout Player

Preseason Winner: James Washington (60%)
My Preseason Choice: James Washington

Midseason Winner: Diontae Johnson (49%)
My Midseason Choice: Diontae Johnson

Poll

Breakout Player

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Diontae Johnson
    (285 votes)
  • 27%
    James Washington
    (122 votes)
  • 3%
    Benny Snell Jr.
    (16 votes)
  • 3%
    Devin Bush
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Kerrith Whyte
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (7 votes)
450 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Diontae Johnson

For me, this came down to Johnson, Washington, and Snell. If you’d have asked me a couple weeks ago, I’d have said Washington in a walk. But he seemed to disappear late in the year. Snell is a favorite of mine, but he ultimately didn’t produce enough to be considered “break-out.” Johnson, though, led the team in receptions and erupted as a punt returner, setting the Steelers record with his 85 yard return before being surprisingly named as 2nd team All-Pro. As I said at mid-season, he doesn’t quite look like Antonio Brown to me, but I think he plays an awful lot like Santonio Holmes. And that’s not a bad thing at all. When Ben comes back, I expect him to explode.


Assistant Coach of the Year

Preseason Winner: Keith Butler (25%), Randy Fichtner (24%), Tom Bradley/Teryl Austin (23%)
My Preseason Choice: Keith Butler

Midseason Winner: Keith Butler (48%)
My Midseason Choice: Keith Butler

Poll

Assistant Coach of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Keith Butler
    (281 votes)
  • 1%
    Randy Fichtner
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Ray Sherman
    (5 votes)
  • 18%
    Tom Bradly/Teryl Austin
    (77 votes)
  • 6%
    Karl Dunbar
    (25 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (18 votes)
414 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Keith Butler

It’s hard to know what Butler did differently this season with the whole defense (or even how much was Butler’s doing – the PG guys seem convinced Mike Tomlin is the architect of the D), but one thing that changed this year was that Butler took over the OLBs again. And holy cow has that been a success. Butler deserves recognition simply for unlocking Bud Dupree, but he’s also participated in developing T.J. Watt while calling the whole D. Tom Bradly/Teryl Austin were tough to pick against (considering how well the DBs communicated on the fly, despite getting a new starter in week 1, then gaining a second one two weeks into the year). And I want to credit Ray Sherman with developing an impressive young receiving corps with no quarterbacks to throw to them, when he wasn’t even supposed to be the WRs coach this year. But, in a very impressive assistant coaching pool, my vote stays with Butler.


Game of the Year

Preseason Winner: Opening week against New England (38%)
My Preseason Choice: Opening week against New England

Midseason Winner: Week 17 against Baltimore (54%)
My Midseason Choice: Week 17 against Baltimore

Poll

Game of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Wk 4: vs Cincinnati 27-3 MNF
    (24 votes)
  • 19%
    Wk 5: vs Baltimore 23-26 in overtime
    (73 votes)
  • 32%
    Wk 6: at LA Chargers 24-17 SNF
    (126 votes)
  • 4%
    Wk 8: vs Miami 27-14 MNF
    (19 votes)
  • 24%
    Wk 13: vs Cleveland 20-13
    (93 votes)
  • 8%
    Wk 14: at Arizona 23-17
    (34 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (15 votes)
384 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: SNF against the Chargers

Well thank god we’re not picking the future anymore. Probably the season’s two ugliest games were the ones I/we picked as “game of the year” in the previous two iterations of this poll. Ugh.

My heart says that the week five overtime loss to Baltimore is the one. The Steelers humbled Lamar Jackson (five sacks, three interceptions). They matched NFL’s top team blow-for-blow even though they were reduced to their third-string QB taking his first ever NFL snaps (and had to turn to him mid-game after a dirty hit took out their second-stringer). And they made the boldest OT decision I’ve ever seen, kicking away to the NFL’s best offense to start the period — then stonewalled that offense. The Steelers deserved to win that game.

BUT, I can’t quite make myself name a loss as game of the year. So instead, I’m reaching for the most impressive contest. Surrounding their week 7 bye, the Steelers beat the Chargers and the Dolphins in dominant but oddly unbalanced fashion. They ran out to a 24-0 lead against LA before ticking away the Chargers fourth quarter comeback. Then they sleep-walked through the first quarter against Miami before dominating the remaining three periods 27-0. That is, in the last quarter before their bye and the first quarter after it, they were beaten 31-0, but in the rest of those games, they crushed their opponents by a combined 51-0. I’ll name the Chargers game because it was so crucial for momentum and belief.


Part 2 coming... Go Steelers!