The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Which Steelers player is the likeliest candidate on the roster to make his first Pro Bowl in 2018?
The Steelers currently have 11 players on their roster who have been in the Pro Bowl before, those being Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Roosevelt Nix, Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier, Chris Boswell, and Joe Haden, the latter having done it while with the Cleveland Browns.
That is a lot of players to have had Pro Bowl experience among your starters, and many of them at critical positions. Without studying the subject, I’m willing to wager that they have more Pro Bowl experience than the vast majority of teams in the league right now. But there are also some players that I can conceivably see joining the others in the relatively near future.
The most-veteran among them would be right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who has while healthy performed at a Pro Bowl level for most of the past four seasons, but has not cracked that barrier just yet. The fact that he has missed large chunks of three of the past three years hasn’t helped him, but I think he was worthy of making it in 2015.
Another legitimate candidate would be Stephon Tuitt, Heyward’s running mate. Tuitt was supposed to be in-line for a breakout season a year ago, but those well-laid plans were waylaid on the second snap of the season after he suffered an arm injury, and other complications followed. Heyward had a stellar year in 2017 after coming off an injury, so maybe Tuitt will have similar fortune.
Of course we have to talk about the second-year guys, JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.J. Watt. Playing alongside Antonio Brown might make it hard for Smith-Schuster to put up the numbers for both of them to make it though. Watt has a clearer path. Put up 10 sacks and pick off a few passes maybe, a fumble here and there. He can do that.
Finally, let’s talk about Vance McDonald. There’s always the big ‘if’ when speaking about him, but he can put up Pro Bowl receiving numbers as a tight end if he can play 16 games. He is already a very good blocking tight end, but a full offseason working with Ben Roethlisberger can really produce results in 2018. He might be the player I’m most excited about.