While the Pittsburgh Steelers now turn their attention to the AFC Divisional Round, it is a great time to take a look back at the regular season to see the top players who performed well, but maybe didn’t get all the credit they truly deserve.
Here are the Top 5 Unheralded Players, in no particular order:
Tight end, tackle(s) and center. All in a regular season for Hubbard to play all of those positions, and outside of center, he did them well. Filling in for Marcus Gilbert, on more than one occasion, Hubbard held his own and was a key piece of the Steelers’ puzzle. The next time Mike Tomlin refers to a “Swiss army knife player”, he should be referring to Hubbard who could be cashing in big-time this offseason in free agency.
The free agent acquisition was met with some skepticism, but Alualu has done nothing but step up and uphold “the Standard”. As a rotational player, and the primary backup when Stephon Tuitt missed time due to injury, Alulau tallied 4 sacks, 1 pass defense, 3 tackles for losses along with 39 combined tackles has been a truly pleasant surprise, and a huge upgrade over the players like Cam Thomas and Ricardo Mathews who tried to fill this void on the roster in the past.
I realize Williams gets plenty of love, but if you think about what he has had to do this season, it is rather remarkable. His first year as a starter, Williams loses his best friend, and linebacker partner, Ryan Shazier, and is forced to start making the defensive calls. Throughout this growing period of his career, he is having a career year in many ways. 89 combined tackles, 8 sacks, 1 interception and 1 pass defense. Williams has become the heartbeat of the defense when it needed it most.
McDonald was bashed by a lot of Steelers fans the first time the team pulled the trigger on the trade with the 49ers. He didn’t get off to a good start, and looked like he had a hard time catching the football. However, he kept working, and even through injuries, has shown some tremendous speed and athleticism when healthy. McDonald is healthy now, and Ben Roethlisberger continues to talk about how big McDonald is to the offense. Which brings up another point. He isn’t just improving as a pass catcher, he is turning into a road grader as a blocker. McDonald pulling on running plays is fun to watch as he tries to annihilate any defender in his way. McDonald’s pickup doesn’t look as bad as it once did.
Boswell made the Pro Bowl, has won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, and you may be wondering why he is on the Unheralded Players list? Simple. Even with the accolades, he doesn’t get enough credit. Boswell has been rock solid all season, making game-winning kick after game-winning kick, but his kickoffs have improved too. He has shown the ability to kick it out of the endzone when needed, or to kick it short and hope his coverage unit does their job. The Steelers will have to break out the checkbook this offseason to give Boswell a nice new contract.