While the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans continue to lick their wounds from Sunday’s painful lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is at least reason for optimism for the future. Pittsburgh still has one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, and much of that talent is young and continuing to develop.
In fact, the Steelers had two rookies make the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team, and I’m sure it won’t take much effort on your part to guess who those two rookies might be. First-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt and second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster both earned the honors.
Here is the 2017 NFL All-Rookie Team, as selected by the PFWA: pic.twitter.com/rsrTfopIsu
— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 16, 2018
Both Watt and Smith-Schuster were immediately contributors and early starters. Watt, in fact, started right away, and every game, except for one that he missed due to injury. He is the first defensive rookie to be a full-time starter from the beginning of the season to the end since Kendrell Bell.
Offensive rookie starters are somewhat more common, yet Smith-Schuster’s quick emergence in between Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, who already had established themselves as NFL wide receivers, remains notable.
For Watt, the 30th-overall pick in the draft, it certainly was not made clear when he was drafted that he would be a full-time starter. The plan was for James Harrison to continue to play. but the rookie picked up everything so well and performed at a level that justified his playing.
For the season, over 15 games, he recorded 54 tackles with seven sacks, adding a forced fumble, an interception, seven passes defensed, and a blocked field goal. Those numbers include a strip sack at the end of the second Baltimore Ravens game that put a bow on the AFC North crown.
Smith-Schuster was not even targeted in the first game of the season, working in a rotation with Eli Rogers, and he also missed two games, first due to injury and then due to suspension, so his receiving numbers only come from 13 games in which he was targeted.
But he recorded 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 15.8 yards per reception. His receiving yards are the most by a rookie in team history, while his receptions are second-most, and his receiving touchdowns third-most. He also added a 96-yard kick return touchdown, the team’s first since 2010.
Both of the Steelers’ rookie starters had good seasons, but more importantly, they showed glimpses of what they can become as they continue to develop. The most important thing for both of them is to find consistency both on and off the field, as adapting to an ‘adult’ life is an obstacle that young players have to adjust to that is often overlooked.