The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: At least two of the Steelers’ third-year Pro Bowlers will reach the Pro Bowl in 2019.
Explanation: Last season, the Steelers had three second-year players reach the Pro Bowl in wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner, and outside linebacker T.J. Watt. At least two of the three will make the Pro Bowl again this year.
James Conner is the safest bet, I think, because the AFC is not as strong at the running back position. He also made the Pro Bowl last year while missing three games, so if he doesn’t get injured, he should put up better numbers. While he will have to compete with Le’Veon Bell this time around, it’s him with the Steelers’ line.
Smith-Schuster has a good chance of repeating as well because it’s easier for wide receivers to make it repeatedly once they crack it. He is also now the premiere target on one of the league’s premiere teams and is out of Antonio Brown’s shadow.
As for Watt, the reality is that he played the best football of his career over the final month and a half of the year, so he is still ascending. While a duplication or improvement of his stat line can’t be projected, it’s reasonable to believe 2019 will be his best season.
As much as it might now seem like it at times, making the Pro Bowl is still an accomplishment. Outside of that, Pro Bowl trips also frequently coincide with team success. If the Steelers don’t have a good season, that will hurt this group’s chances of repeating.
Watt in particular has a lot of competition as a pass rusher. It’s no great shock that it had been several years since the team last sent an outside linebacker to the Pro Bowl, because there are so few slots for so many edge defenders.
Wide receiver is also a crowded group. Keep in mind that both Watt and Smith-Schuster reached the Pro Bowl as alternates last year. It helps that they got their foot in the door, and that they play for the Steelers, but Watt will have to at least match his previous numbers, and I think Smith-Schuster needs more touchdowns.