When it comes to the Pro Bowl, you know that it’s inevitable there will be some ‘politics’ involved in the voting, a word that I only use for the immediate lack of a better one. Established players get preference, particularly those who tend to make it every year, and if a team already has a player at the same position getting in, the second one will have a much tougher journey.
Many view Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as a Pro Bowl snub, even though his teammate, Antonio Brown, made it once again for the seventh time. Smith-Schuster has put up 106 receptions for 1389 yards and six touchdowns so far this season, while Brown has 104 receptions for 1297 yards and a league-leading 15 touchdowns.
While Brown earned the league-wide recognition, however, Smith-Schuster received the accolades of his locker mates, as the players on the team voted him their Most Valuable Player for the 2018 season. Brown has won the MVP Award every other year of his career, however, beginning in his second season in 2011 and most recently winning it in 2017.
Le’Veon Bell also won it as a second-year player in 2014, so it hasn’t been uncommon, at least in recent years, for young players to receive the high accolades of his peers. And while he surely wasn’t thrilled about being left out of the Pro Bowl, he said—when asked, admittedly—that the team MVP award means even more to him.
“Yeah, I think it means more”, he said during his press conference on Thursday in which he accepted the honor. “Just because the teammates and the people you know in your locker room, that they voted for me, it means a lot. It means that they have my back, and it’s awesome to see that”.
He has needed his brothers to have his back just a bit this past week after he suffered the first fumble of his young career at the most inopportune time. In the Steelers final drive on Sunday, he had the ball stripped out of his grasp as the offense moved into field goal range while trailing by three and with no timeouts remaining. That was the end of the game, and ensured that they could not have a win-and-in scenario in Week 17.
It was a huge and costly turnover, but the Steelers wouldn’t have even been in a position to be in that situation had it not bene for Smith-Schuster’s performance in 2018. Even accepting the notion that it was a byproduct of defenses’ approach to covering Brown, they needed an accomplished player able to take advantage of that, and he has done that.
I don’t know if he really believes what he said, and I hope that if the Steelers fail to reach the playoffs, that he will make it into the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but it’s still a smart thing for him to say, which has been a surprising theme for the 22-year-old.