It helps when you’re a long-established team. It also helps when you win a lot of games. But you also have to have a lot of well-received personalities on your team in order to be heavily represented on the NFL’s top player sales list, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had six players in the top 50 based on sales a year ago.
The Killer Bs are easily enough to predict, though perhaps the presence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might be a bit of a surprise. He has never exactly been a media darling the way many other quarterbacks have, and he was even contemplating retirement, but he had a strong finish to last season.
Only wide receiver Antonio Brown, who generated the fifth-most player sales a year ago, performed better in this respect on the Steelers than Roethlisberger, who ranked 19th. Running back Le’Veon Bell also cracked the top 25, coming in with the 23rd-most sales on official player-related merchandise.
Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva inadvertently made himself a household name a season ago after he captured nationwide headlines in Week Three as a result of the bizarre photo-op that became the Steelers’ anthem position. He massively rose in recognition and popularity because of that, and so it’s not a surprise that he ended up as the only offensive lineman on the entire list.
The other two members of the top 50 for the Steelers bode well for the team’s future, as they are their top two draft picks from last season, outside linebacker T.J. Watt and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster finished slightly ahead at 38, while Watt had the 40th-most player sales over the course of the 2017 season. Only five rookies made the list, Pittsburgh being the only team with more than one.
Both players had very encouraging rookie seasons a year ago, with Watt’s seven sacks representing the second most by a rookie in team history and Smith-Schuster recording the most receiving yards by a rookie in team history.
While Watt is somewhat more subdued and businesslike, the young Smith-Schuster has really endeared himself not just to Pittsburgh but to the football nation as a whole with his gregarious and lighthearted personality, belying his physical play on the field.
While the Dallas Cowboys may have only had four names on the list, all four of those names came in the top 14, including two of the top four sales. The New England Patriots had three players, while the Philadelphia Eagles had five. As I scan the list, I don’t believe any other team had as many or more than the Steelers’ six players. So it seems as though Pittsburgh puts its many where its collective mouth is.