With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: T.J. Watt, OLB
The first rookie that we get to discuss, first-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt has so far been the first rookie defender to show staying power as a full-time starter from the first snap of the season to the last since Kendrell Bell in the early 2000s.
Others have been given the keys and have come up short as rookies. See Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones in their rookie seasons. Javon Hargrave was technically a starter, but a starter in a position that is essentially a sub-package player. Artie Burns and Sean Davis worked into the starting lineup in the second half of the year.
Watt has been unlike any other rookie the Steelers have had on defense in a long time, and only any since Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. Because he’s not like a rookie. Like Pouncey, he came in from day one and just took ownership of everything with a professional mindset and was a day-one starter despite having an incumbent to contend with.
Watt was not handed the starting job by any means. He earned it. He is keeping James Harrison off the field, to the chagrin of many, admittedly. But he has also produced, recording 28 tackles with four sacks, an interception, and four passes defensed in seven games.
He has gotten his hands on a number of footballs, and that has been instrumental in him seeing the field. The Steelers have been using him a lot to drop into coverage, probably more than anybody over the course of the past few years. He batted a pass down from the second level just on Sunday.
He’s not a finished product, but he is already a starter-quality player, and that’s a pretty nice feeling. He has a great athletic skill set the build from, and an incisive football mind to pair with a deadly serious work ethic.
I wasn’t in love with the selection of Watt, though it was one of my top handful of realistic choices for their first pick. But it’s hard to argue with the results. He’s fit in perfectly and has produced in the process, while only promising to get even better.