The Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday voted on who their Most Valuable Player of the year would be, and second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was picked for the honor by his teammates. Many in the local and even some in the national media chose to make a stink about how quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was overlooked for the award.
Smith-Schuster, however, was a right choice for the honor. And I say that with careful wording. He was a right choice, because there was no one clear choice this season. Smith-Schuster, both statistically and in terms of the timeliness of his performances, was certainly deserving. So was Roethlisberger. So, too, was Antonio Brown.
These three, I believe, are the candidates most worthy of the honor. Sure, you could name a defensive player like T.J. Watt or Cameron Heyward or, Smith-Schuster’s choice, Joe Haden, but the offense was clearly the side of the ball that carried the team this year, and that was through the air pretty literally two thirds of the time.
Smith-Schuster leads the team in receptions and receiving yards with 106 and 1389, respectively, ahead of even Brown, but one area in which he lags behind a bit is his six touchdowns. In a season in which Roethlisberger just set a new franchise record with 33 touchdowns passes, and is on the verge of the first 5000-yard season in team history, I could see the argument.
But while Roethlisberger has put up some comparatively gaudy numbers, there is also the plain and simple fact that he has turned the ball over 17 times this year, including 15 interceptions, tied for the third-most that he has ever thrown in his career.
And four of those interceptions have come in the red zone, with another couple within field goal range. It’s also worth noting that a lot of Roethlisberger’s yardage this season has come from his targets making plays for him after the catch.
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith-Schuster and Brown are numbers one and three in the league, respectively, in yards after the catch in 2018. And Brown is in third by just a yard. They credit Smith-Schuster with an astonishing 627 yards after the catch, which is well over 100 more than anybody else. Brown has 495.
Speaking of Brown, his ‘down’ season has certainly shaped up to be anything but as we stand at the end. His 104 receptions for 1297 yards are very good numbers, but he has set himself apart from everybody else with 15 touchdown receptions, the most in the NFL, and the most in team history.
Any three of these players would have been deserving of the honor, and nobody should be rolling their eyes because one of the other two didn’t win. But Brown has won several times already, and you can bet that Roethlisberger encouraged others to vote for his teammates—likely Smith-Schuster or a lineman.