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2021 Pittsburgh Steelers Midseason Awards, Part 1

The Pittsburgh Steelers are halfway through their 2021 season, and it is time to hand out some midseason awards!

Chicago Bears v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Okay, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 season doesn’t actually have a midpoint (thanks 17 game schedule), but apparently the NFL season hit its midpoint with the Steelers-Bears tilt on Monday night. So now’s a good time to take stock on our awards picks.

We voted on a whole mess of Steelers-centered awards just before the season began. What this article will be is the mid-season update.

This will come in two editions: first, the traditional awards (e.g. MVP, Rookie of the Year), then the second will be invented awards. (More on those soon.) 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.

On with the show. Go Steelers.

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

MVP: T.J. Watt
Offensive POY: Najee Harris
Defensive POY: T.J. Watt
Rookie of the Year: Najee Harris
Newcomer of the Year: Pat Freiermuth
Comeback/Improved POY: Diontae Johnson
Breakout Player: Alex Highsmith
Assistant Coach of the Year: Adrian Klemm (OLine)
Play of the year: Watt strip sack vs seahawks
Game of the year (to come): Ravens #1


MVP

Poll

MVP

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    T.J. Watt
    (753 votes)
  • 2%
    Najee Harris
    (20 votes)
  • 14%
    Cam Heyward
    (130 votes)
  • 0%
    Diontae Johnson
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (6 votes)
927 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: T.J. Watt. Just like Big Ben always picked Heath Miller as the team MVP, I always pick Big Ben. But this year, I’m going off script, and giving the award to TJ Watt. Watt has been hosed in the DPOY voting two years in a row (2020 especially), and he’s the guy I look for to make big plays when a big play is needed. Maybe picking him will also cosmically give Ben a career year too. At this point though, I think Watt is the best player on this team.


Offensive Player of the Year

Poll

OPOY

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Najee Harris
    (655 votes)
  • 5%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (47 votes)
  • 4%
    Diontae Johnson
    (40 votes)
  • 13%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (119 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
862 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Najee Harris. Man, this is actually a tough choice. I know lots of people believe Ben is washed up, but he’s looked better and better the last few weeks, and he has the look of a guy playing for his life (his game against Cleveland was fiery). But the Steelers’ winning streak coincides with Najee’s ascension on the ground. He’s already the real thing.


Defensive Player of the Year

Poll

DPOY

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    T.J. Watt
    (611 votes)
  • 26%
    Cam Heyward
    (223 votes)
  • 0%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Joe Haden
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
847 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: T.J. Watt. I hate giving the same guy multiple awards (let’s spread the wealth), and Cam Heyward is chronically underrated and playing great. But T.J. is on another plane. He’s second in the NFL in sacks by .5 sacks, but has played in 2.5 fewer games than league leader Myles Garrett. Watt is on pace for 24.5 sacks this year, which would shatter the NFL record. But if you factor in his missed time, he’s actually on pace for closer to 27 or 30. And he forces turnovers and covers (and tackles) downfield. He’s ridiculous.


Rookie of the Year

Poll

Rookie of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Najee Harris
    (641 votes)
  • 22%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (191 votes)
  • 0%
    Kendrick Green
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Dan Moore
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Pressley Harvin
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Tre Norwood
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
845 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Najee Harris. Man, here I go again – giving the same guy multiple awards again. But then again, while Pat Freiermuth has a legitimate case (in many other seasons, he’s the obvious winner), Najee is the obvious winner to me.


Newcomer of the Year

Not all newcomers who matter are rookies, so this includes veterans new to town.

Poll

Newcomer of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Joe Schobert
    (99 votes)
  • 6%
    Trai Turner
    (51 votes)
  • 1%
    Arthur Maulett
    (11 votes)
  • 77%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (623 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (22 votes)
806 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Pat Freiermuth. I might as well just admit I’m ignoring my own rules in this piece. This category is theoretically for non-rookies. But this season, it seems to me that the best newcomers in Pittsburgh have been rookies. And Freiermuth has already become the best Steelers tight end since Heath Miller.


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 POY

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Diontae Johnson
    (567 votes)
  • 12%
    Devin Bush
    (101 votes)
  • 10%
    Chris Wormley
    (83 votes)
  • 1%
    Robert Spillane (after preseason)
    (10 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (29 votes)
790 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Diontae Johnson. Johnson has gone from leading the NFL in dropped passes last year, to being one of the most reliable targets in town today. What’s really exciting about that is knowing how hard he worked (catching tennis balls barehanded from a pitching machine is my favorite method); if he’s both motivated to improve and capable of doing it, he’s got a higher ceiling than it seems. Keep it up.


Breakout Player

This is different than “comeback” because these players aren’t proven guys who’ve resurged this year. Instead, they’re players who 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

  • 48%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (374 votes)
  • 7%
    Diontae Johnson
    (61 votes)
  • 9%
    Cam Sutton
    (74 votes)
  • 22%
    Alex Highsmith
    (173 votes)
  • 9%
    Najee Harris
    (73 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (24 votes)
779 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Alex Highsmith. This is a projection for the second half of the season, really. Highsmith isn’t putting up the numbers I’d hoped so far in 2021, but he’s been in offensive backfields all year. Bud Dupree often looked like this – strong run defender, plenty of pressures, but struggled to complete sacks. Then he suddenly caught fire. I’m hoping Alex has a similar explosion before this season ends.


Assistant Coach of the Year

Poll

Assistant Coach of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Keith Butler (DC/OLBs)
    (107 votes)
  • 19%
    Matt Canada (OC)
    (143 votes)
  • 32%
    Adrian Klemm (O-Line)
    (231 votes)
  • 29%
    Karl Dunbar (D-Line)
    (210 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (25 votes)
716 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Adrian Klemm. While the O-Line isn’t exactly a “team strength” yet, I’m genuinely impressed at how good they’ve gotten this quickly. With two rookie starters, and four new heads (after losing three Pro Bowlers from a year ago), that’s nothing short of extraordinary.


Play of the Year

Poll

Play of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Freiermuth juggling TD vs Browns
    (274 votes)
  • 12%
    Blocked punt TD vs Bills
    (90 votes)
  • 0%
    Claypool tackle-break red zone catch vs Browns
    (1 vote)
  • 32%
    Watt game-winning strip sack vs Seahawks
    (241 votes)
  • 0%
    D. Johnson 50 yard crosser vs Broncos
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Big Ben TD dart to Claypool vs Broncos
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    Boz recovers fumbled kickoff vs Bears
    (17 votes)
  • 7%
    Steelers D stuffs Nick Chubb on 4th and 1 vs Browns
    (53 votes)
  • 3%
    Cam Heyward interception vs Bears
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    Najee 20 yard TD dive vs Browns
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (7 votes)
732 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: T.J. Watt’s game-winning strip sack against the Seahawks.

Is there any player who comes through when it’s needed more than T.J. Watt? I honestly don’t know how anyone isn’t penciling him in as DPOY of the NFL this year. On this play, he beat a triple team for his second OT sack. It might wind up being the best play of the year by anyone.


Game of the Year (to come)

Poll

Game of the Year (to come)

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Week 11 vs Chargers
    (7 votes)
  • 2%
    Week 12 at Bengals
    (16 votes)
  • 37%
    Week 13 vs Ravens
    (218 votes)
  • 0%
    Week 14 at Vikings
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    Week 15 vs Titans
    (28 votes)
  • 5%
    Week 16 at Chiefs
    (35 votes)
  • 8%
    Week 17 vs Browns
    (52 votes)
  • 38%
    Week 18 at Ravens
    (229 votes)
589 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Week 13 against the Ravens.

I love me a good revenge game, so I’m tempted to say “Bengals rematch!” but unless I feel genuine anger (like, say, if the Bengals signed Vontaze Burfict again before week 12), I’ll lean on a Ravens game. The Steelers swept Baltimore last season, and they seem to have Lamar Jackson’s number — he’s played genuinely badly in his only two starts against the Steelers. The world is trying to anoint the Ravens again, as they always do. I want the Steelers to shut that down.

Stay tuned for part two of the awards. Go Steelers.