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Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Midseason Awards, Part 1

Part 1: Traditional Rewards

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Okay, the Steelers 2022 season doesn’t actually have a midpoint (the 17 game schedule still feels wrong to me), but apparently the NFL season hit its midpoint on the Steelers bye week. 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 by me (e.g. “Breakout Player,” “Addition by Subtraction/Best Loss”). 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 geared up and ready for the home stretch ahead.

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

P.S. As per usual, the list got a little long, so in case you wanted to skip ahead, here’s the shorthand version (with my picks). Explanations and polls to follow.

MVP: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Offensive Player of the Year: Kenny Pickett
Defensive Player of the Year: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Rookie of the Year: George Pickens
Newcomer of the Year: Myles Jack
Comeback/Improved POY: The O-Line
Breakout Player: Alex Highsmith
Assistant Coach of the Year: Pat Meyer (OL)
Game of the Year: Wk 16, vs Raiders


Most Valuable Player

League voters are often wildly inconsistent in how they define the most “valuable” player. 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

Steelers MVP

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Kenny Pickett
    (15 votes)
  • 3%
    George Pickens
    (21 votes)
  • 6%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (39 votes)
  • 4%
    Alex Highsmith
    (25 votes)
  • 71%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (440 votes)
  • 11%
    Other
    (73 votes)
613 votes total Vote Now

My preseason choice: T.J. Watt
Preseason poll winner: T.J. Watt (66%)
My Midseason Choice: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Well, clearly T.J. Watt is the MVP based on my rationale above (“guy you’d miss the most”), but he hasn’t played since the third quarter of week 1, so he can’t really count. I mean, I miss Rod Woodson too, but he hasn’t played in a while either. This list is for guys who have been excellent this year. And despite a rocky week 8 matchup against Philly, Minkah Fitzpatrick has been outstanding this season. From his pick-6 on the first pass attempt of the season, to the blocked PAT that saved the opening game against Cincinnati; from his nearly second pick-6 against the New York Jets to his solid tackling all season, Minkah has been pretty consistently outstanding — perhaps the only player on either side of the ball who can claim that.


Offensive Player of the Year

I think of OPOY (or DPOY) simply as the player having the finest season. Stats matter (especially with OPOY) but so does the eyeball test. Which player is having the most impressive season in 2022? Here are my candidates:

Poll

Steelers Offensive Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Kenny Pickett
    (70 votes)
  • 0%
    Najee Harris
    (4 votes)
  • 47%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (282 votes)
  • 26%
    George Pickens
    (158 votes)
  • 5%
    Mason Cole
    (33 votes)
  • 1%
    Diontae Johnson
    (6 votes)
  • 7%
    Other
    (42 votes)
595 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Najee Harris
Preseason poll winner: Najee Harris (52%)
My midseason Choice: Kenny Pickett

This is probably the most controversial choice I’m making, but I’m making it anyway. The energy of Steelers’ offense changed palpably when Kenny Pickett took over in week 4. The numbers don’t always show it, but if you were watching, you saw it. He’s made rookie mistakes, and some of those have been costly. But he’s also proven to be the kind of aggressive leader the team didn’t seem to have with Mitchell Trubisky (or Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges, the last time the team had to start a non-Roethlisberger). He’s also a legit headliner who knows how to talk to the press, how to show up in the huddle, and how to lead his guys. I was skeptical when the Steelers drafted him in April, but I get it why they thought “we can win with this guy.” It’s going to keep being rocky at times this year, but I think they can win with him too.


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’s been the most impressive defender in black and gold?

Poll

Steelers Defensive Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Cameron Heyward
    (140 votes)
  • 5%
    Myles Jack
    (30 votes)
  • 7%
    Alex Highsmith
    (41 votes)
  • 56%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (330 votes)
  • 5%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (9 votes)
582 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: T.J. Watt
Preseason poll winner: T.J. Watt (74%)
My Midseason Choice: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Please see my above notes on Minkah (re: MVP). There’s an argument to be made for Alex Highsmith here, or even Myles Jack. But Minkah’s my DPOY.


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, several rookies are playing meaningful roles in Pittsburgh.

Poll

Steelers Rookie of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Kenny Pickett
    (100 votes)
  • 58%
    George Pickens
    (338 votes)
  • 3%
    DeMarvin Leal
    (18 votes)
  • 20%
    Jaylen Warren
    (122 votes)
  • 0%
    Connor Heyward
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
582 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: George Pickens
Preseason poll winner: George Pickens (77%)
My Midseason Choice: George Pickens

There are a surprising number of options here. I LOVE that (and we haven’t even seen dark-horse rookies like Mark Robinson or Calvin Austin, who might wind up being exciting players in a year or two). For the rookies we have seen, there’s a legit case to be made for Pickett (see my OPOY notes above), and there would have been a legit case for Demarvin Leal before injury took him off the field a few weeks back. But ultimately, George Pickens is the most impressive rookie in this class. Frankly, he’s probably the most impressive rookie wideout in the NFL, if only he got a little more action. His body control, field awareness, physicality, and ball skills are literally thrilling to watch. With a more effective offensive scheme, he’ll be a superstar in this league. With Chase Claypool’s exit, we might see it sooner rather than later.


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 the best pickup this season?

Poll

Steelers Newcomer of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Mitchell Trubisky
    (9 votes)
  • 4%
    Steven Sims
    (25 votes)
  • 8%
    Mason Cole
    (50 votes)
  • 20%
    Larry Ogunjobi
    (114 votes)
  • 61%
    Myles Jack
    (346 votes)
  • 1%
    Levi Wallace
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (10 votes)
561 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Myles Jack
Preseason poll winner: Myles Jack (47%)
My Midseason Choice: Myles Jack

Jack was my preseason pick as well, and I feel pretty good about this one. Ogunjobi has been good (excellent at times) and Sims made his presence felt more than once. But Jack is a tackling machine, and already a team leader. He reminds me of Joe Haden in a lot of ways — veteran leader, smart and reliable, consummate professional. The defense is better with him in black-and-gold. I hope he finishes his career here, like Joe did.


Comeback/Improved 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

Steelers Comeback/Improved Player of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    The Offensive Line
    (158 votes)
  • 51%
    Devin Bush
    (288 votes)
  • 2%
    Tyson Alualu
    (15 votes)
  • 16%
    Other
    (94 votes)
555 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Chase Claypool
Preseason poll winner: Tyson Alualu (47%)
My Midseason Choice: The Offensive Line

This is the toughest category for me to come up with (you can tell by the short list of candidates). Hell, the preseason poll winner has since been benched, and my personal preseason choice is no longer even a Steeler. I will say that Devin Bush looks much better than last year, but he’s still a little disappointing. Meanwhile, the offensive line, which was expected to be a team weakness (and at times has been frustrating and ineffective) has steadily improved over the course of the season. It’s definitely cheating to put a whole unit up against individuals, but I’m doing it anyway.


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 have come out of nowhere (or in some cases, out of mediocrity) and stand at the cusp of greatness. These are players who are announcing their presence this year.

Poll

Steelers Breakout Player

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Kenny Pickett
    (15 votes)
  • 24%
    George Pickens
    (128 votes)
  • 6%
    DeMarvin Leal
    (36 votes)
  • 14%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (76 votes)
  • 7%
    Steven Sims
    (38 votes)
  • 38%
    Alex Highsmith
    (202 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (30 votes)
525 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Alex Highsmith
Preseason poll winner: Pat Freiermuth (56%)
My Midseason Choice: Alex Highsmith

I predicted that Highsmith would be the Breakout Player in 2021, and while he played alright, I wound up a bit underwhelmed with his overall performance. Then in September, I crossed my fingers and penciled him in during this year’s preseason awards again. This time, he hasn’t let me down. Highsmith has lead the league in sacks at numerous points this year, and been in opposing backfields all season long. He’s not as disruptive as TJ Watt or James Harrison, but those are hardly fair comparisons. Instead, he is beginning to insert himself into the conversation with Lamarr Woodley, Joey Porter, Jason Gilden and other Pro Bowl edge rushers we’ve seen in these parts. That’s pretty great too. And it’s not something you could claim last year. I’d call that a breakout season.


Assistant Coach of the Year

This probably requires no explanation. Who’s making the biggest (positive) difference?

Poll

Steelers Assistant Coach of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Brian Flores (ILBs / Special Defensive Assistant)
    (163 votes)
  • 5%
    Karl Dunbar (Defensive Line)
    (25 votes)
  • 3%
    Teryl Austin (Defensive Coordinator)
    (15 votes)
  • 3%
    Frisman Jackson (Wide Receivers)
    (16 votes)
  • 37%
    Pat Meyer (Offensive Line)
    (178 votes)
  • 2%
    Mike Sullivan (Quarterbacks)
    (13 votes)
  • 13%
    Other
    (62 votes)
472 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Brian Flores
Preseason poll winner: Brian Flores (53%)
My Midseason Choice: Pat Meyer (OL)

With all due respect to Brian Flores, whose influence has been evident at times, there’s only one option in my opinion. The offensive line was a shambles in 2020 and 2021, and looked to be just as bad during the 2022 preseason. Then they just kind of stabilized. They’re still not incredible — there are inopportune penalties and a rocky running game. But this unit is so much less of a nightmare than I expected after watching the preseason. The players are the same ones we saw in August; they’re just doing it all better now. I think, when it’s a unit that functions “as one” as much as the OL does, you have to credit the coach for it. So I’m doing that.


Game of the Year

Poll

Game of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Wk 9, vs. Saints — after the bye
    (29 votes)
  • 7%
    Wk 10, vs. Bengals — rematch of the opener
    (31 votes)
  • 12%
    Wk 13, vs. Ravens
    (49 votes)
  • 39%
    Wk 16, vs Raiders (50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception)
    (161 votes)
  • 6%
    Wk 17, at Ravens
    (28 votes)
  • 15%
    Wk 18, vs. Browns — season closer
    (61 votes)
  • 10%
    Other
    (44 votes)
403 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Wk 1, at Bengals — season opener
Preseason poll winner: Wk 14, vs Ravens (46%)
My Midseason Choice: Wk 16, vs Raiders — 50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception

Ugh. For once, I really don’t have a strong preference at all. Weird. The odds-on favorite will be one of the Ravens games, but I’ll go with the nod to history. I like gestures like this, commemorating a great historical moment. And I think the Steelers tend to rise in those spots, when the old champions are present and the world is watching. So I’ll go with the Raiders game. But man, it’s hard to feel too strongly about any of these. Strange.


Okay, round two on the way…

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