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4 Steelers on their rookie contracts who could be on track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Examining the Hall of Fame credentials for some of the Steelers’ younger players

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

One of the most exciting aspects of the current Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster is the young corps of starters the team has built.

Not only can this group of newcomers greatly improve the Steelers’ chances at a Super Bowl title in the near future, but they are also providing hope for the team post-Ben Roethlisberger. Even though some of the Steelers’ best players are veterans, there is enough talent among the team’s youth to warrant looking forward to the future.

While team achievements, mainly Super Bowl rings, are the final goal for both players and fans, individual accolades are quite the honor as well. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the greatest of such for an NFL player. Could a Steelers youngster, still on their rookie deal, be on track for Canton?

The four young stars mentioned in this article aren’t the only Steelers who could be on track for the Hall of Fame. There are five veterans on the team who could be fitted for a gold jacket sometime in the near future. You can read the article analyzing these modern Steelers greats HERE.

As for the the young players who could find themselves in the discussion several years from now, let’s take a very early look.

OLB T.J. Watt

Career Stats: 47 games played, 177 total tackles, 125 solo tackles, 34.5 sacks, 36 tackles for loss

Career Accolades: 2x Pro Bowler, 1x All Pro

The Steelers have plenty of stars on their defense, but T.J. Watt shines the brightest. The young outside linebacker has become perhaps the best pass-rusher in the league over his first three years in the NFL and he still hasn’t reached his ceiling.

Watt hit career highs in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (14) last year in an excellent season in which he came very close to winning Defense Player of the Year. There’s little doubt he’ll be in the conversation for years to come. Watt impressed when it came to takeaways as well, showing a knack for forced fumbles (15 in his career), and even in coverage, with 3 career interceptions.

His Hall of Fame chances are looking good despite a relatively small sample size of work. Watt has shined when it comes to stats and Pro Bowl/All Pro nods, and should have quite the résumé by the time his career in Pittsburgh winds down. If he can continue on the pace he’s on, and add a few DPOY awards and/or a Super Bowl rings, he could be a lock for the Hall of Fame. Watt has a lot of years left in his career to determine his legacy, but the odds are in his favor when it comes to Canton.

S Minkah Fitzpatrick

Career Stats: 32 games played, 149 total tackles, 95 solo tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 7 interceptions

Career Accolades: 1x Pro Bowler, 1x All Pro

Minkah Fitzpatrick’s Hall of Fame case is very simple. Either he can replicate his excellent 2019 season in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career, or he’ll drop back down to earth and finish his career as an above-average, but not Hall of Fame worthy, safety.

Fitzpatrick was traded from Miami to Pittsburgh early on last season and never looked back, totaling 5 interceptions and becoming a key cog in the Steelers’ return to defensive dominance. He was recognized as the game-changing player he is, being voted to the Pro Bowl and All Pro team in 2019. It’s far too early to make any Hall of Fame predictions for Fitzpatrick, as his two wildly different NFL seasons haven't provided enough evidence to point his career in any specific direction. Regardless of whether or not he finds his way to the Hall of Fame, the Steelers’ trade for Fitzpatrick looks better and better each day.

LB Devin Bush

Career Stats: 16 games played, 109 total tackles, 72 solo tackles, 2 interceptions

Career Accolades: 0x Pro Bowler, 0x All Pro

A small sample size of games is a very common theme for the players mentioned in this article, and Bush has the smallest. His one and only year in the NFL was impressive, however, leading to him gaining a spot on this list.

Bush’s only NFL season — his rookie year — was full of ups and downs, but it’s the potential he showed for his future which could point to a legendary career. The top-10 pick had impressive production last season, and even though he didn't make it to the Pro Bowl, he proved he is on the right track to make it there and beyond throughout his career. As an extremely athletic linebacker, Bush’s ceiling is sky-high, and he's a fast learner who should excel for years to come in Pittsburgh. A Hall of Famer? Not yet by any means, but Devin Bush’s career should be a fun one to watch for fans of the black and gold.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

Career Stats: 42 games played, 211 receptions, 2895 receiving yards, 17 receiving touchdowns

Career Accolades: 1x Pro Bowler, 0x All Pro

JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered a down year in 2019, erasing many of the high hopes Steelers fans had for him after his impressive first two years in the NFL. Even though Smith-Schuster looks more like a “hall of very good” player at best, he still has a surprisingly good chance at making it to the Hall of Fame.

It’s often forgotten just how young Smith-Schuster is, as he’s a three-year NFL veteran who’s only 23 years old. He still hasn't reached his prime yet and has shown the ability to compete at an elite level, meaning that we could see a much-improved Juju in the future. Smith-Schuster broke Randy Moss’ record in 2019 to be the youngest receiver to amass 2,500 receiving yards in NFL history, putting him on the right track for some insane career statistics.

Most Steelers fans would agree that Smith-Schuster doesn't seem to be a Hall of Fame-level player. This could very well be the case, but his excellent career numbers so far and an improved 2020 season could definitely put him back into the Canton conversation.

This list was made for young Steelers players with a shot at greatness, but the man that brought them all to the team should get some attention as well. Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ longtime general manager, has long been a brilliant guiding force in the team's many successful personnel decisions. Colbert has won two Super Bowls, and drafted some legendary players such as Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu. He’s pulled off some impressive trades as well, such as acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami, or managing to trade Antonio Brown to Oakland. Like every other GM, Colbert’s record isn't flawless, but throughout his 20-year career as a member of the Steelers’ front office he’s shown enough to deserve some consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Any Steelers player still on the rookie contract has plenty of time to turn their career into one worthy of the Hall of Fame. Diontae Johnson had a promising rookie year last season, but unlike the other’s mentioned on the list, he didn't separate himself from the pack enough to be included. That being said, Johnson looks to be the next great Steelers receiver, and the expectations should be sky-high for his sophomore act and beyond.

Yes, it’s still very early for all of these players on their rookie contracts. Who do you think is most worthy to be on track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?