If you were to pick one Pittsburgh Steelers player who was the most likely to make his first Pro Bowl in 2018, who would you pick? Would it be Stephon Tuitt? What about Marcus Gilbert? Ramon Foster, who was a first-alternate in 2018? One of the young defensive backs, or T.J. Watt, perhaps?
How about another wide receiver? We know Antonio Brown is going to make it every year, but Gil Brandt believes that second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster gives the Steelers their best opportunity to have a first-team Pro Bowler for the 2018 season.
As a rookie, during which he was 20 years old for most of the year, Smith-Schuster caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. The second-round pick did that while slowly ascending the depth chart and ultimately taking over a starting job on a full-time basis by the end of the year, but he would have even more opportunities in 2018.
Oh yeah, he also only played 14 games. “Big things are ahead for the rising star”, Brandt said.
The Steelers actually had an extensive number of first-team Pro Bowlers in 2017. The biggest name on that list was Cameron Heyward, a defensive end who in his seventh season posted a career-high in 12 sacks, also named as a first-team All-Pro.
Another notable name on the ‘firsts’ list was left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. A former Army Ranger, he was in his third NFL season in 2017 at the age of 29. Fullback Roosevelt Nix and kicker Chris Boswell shared the first-time experience. Linebacker Ryan Shazier was named a Pro Bowler outright for the first time, though he also made it as an alternated in 2016.
As for Smith-Schuster, he is going to be to be the full-time number two receiver to Brown this season, even with the addition of James Washington in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. That will mean more work as an outside wide receiver when they are in two-receiver sets, though he did gain experience in that role late last year when he passed Martavis Bryant on the depth chart.
In order for Smith-Schuster to make the Pro Bowl, though, it is almost assured that the Steelers would have to have two wide receivers go. It is not incredibly common, but it does happen. The most recent occurrence was in 2016, in fact, when both Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos were named. Each had over 75 receptions and over 1000 receiving yards and with five touchdown receptions apiece.
Smith-Schuster wasn’t too far off from the first two marks and actually did better as a scorer. Factor in the fact that he missed two games, was not even the primary slot receiver to start the season, and only received targets in 13 games, and you can easily see him catching 75 or more passes for over 1000 yards based on his work last year.