Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced the recipient of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, granted to the team’s best rookie effort every year, and there was really only one indisputable option. With the impact that he has had on the offensive side of the ball since being activated, it was clear that fourth-round wide receiver Martavis Bryant was the rookie highlight of the 2014 season.
The Steelers drafted Bryant in the fourth round with the knowledge that he would be coming in a bit raw. Coupled with a shoulder injury in the preseason finale, the two factors conspired to see him inactive for the first six games of the season, but things changed rapidly from there on out.
Activated for the Houston Texans game, Bryant got his career started hooking up with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on a go route for a 35-yard touchdown, and there would only be more to come.
Over the course of his first four games, Bryant reeled in six touchdown passes. Despite playing only nine games, the rookie receiver is third on the team in total touchdowns, behind the 12 from Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell’s 11 scores on the ground and in the air. Nobody else is within three scores of Bryant’s seven touchdowns.
Beyond that, the rookie has shown flashes of potential for more, showing an instinctive willingness to block, though that is no doubt a skill that will need to be honed. He has also seen limited usage, and success, running the end around.
Bryant has added touchdowns from deep—including 94 yards out—intermediate, and inside the 10-yard line, showing that he can be an impactful player in the right situation regardless of where the Steelers are on the field.
He has made his mistakes, of course, dropping passes and rounding off routes that have instead produced interceptions, but he has grown steadily as the season has progressed, and his performance in his first go around promises more in the future.
There was a time, in the wake of the draft, that the Steelers’ third-round pick, Dri Archer, was being talked about as a legitimate candidate to win the league’s MVP award, but he has since failed to even win the kick return job.
Ryan Shazier seemed like the immediate choice to be the team’s most successful rookie, as he was handed the starting job immediately, but injuries kept him off the field for much of the season, and he has since been passed by on the depth chart.
The late emergence of second-round defensive end Stephon Tuitt at least made the conversation interesting. He was inserted into the starting lineup three games ago and has shown improvement on a weekly basis. He showed his ability to be an impact player himself in the last game after recording a forced fumble and a sack. But at the end of the season, it’s clear that Bryant stands alone in this rookie draft class in terms of their impact on the team’s success in 2014.