The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Which of the Steelers’ three new Pro Bowlers in 2018 is most likely to repeat that feat multiple times?
If memory serves, the Steelers ended up with 10 Pro Bowlers for the 2017 season when the final tally was made. This year, they have eight, including two as injury replacements, and three of those eight include new faces (the non-repeats are Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier, Le’Veon Bell, Chris Boswell, and, so far, Roosevelt Nix).
A trio of second-year players showed up in a big way for the Steelers this year in running back James Conner, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Conner scored 13 touchdowns, Smith-Schuster gained over 1400 yards, and Watt recorded 13 sacks, the most by any Steeler in a decade.
All three of them project to be starters for the team as long as they remain here, meaning that they should be given every opportunity to continue to prove that they are indeed Pro Bowlers. In Conner’s case, 2019 will be the first season in which he is projected to be the starter, while Smith-Schuster could be elevated to the top target if Antonio Brown gets traded.
All three players have displayed their talent, yet also exhibited areas in their game that continue to be ripe for growth (and all three of them will have had their position coach changed within their first three seasons as well).
Which of the three is most likely to not only continue to develop into the caliber of player that is a perennial Pro Bowler, but will also carry the pull and hold the favorable position to earn repeated distinctions?
My vote would be for Conner due to the nature of the running back position, particularly in the AFC. Edge defender will always be very competitive, and there are plenty of wide receivers, but featured backs are becoming more rare, and the Steelers have a long history of utilizing a bell cow, which should give him a leg up for that reason.