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 second-year player will have the biggest season for the Steelers in 2019?
The Steelers had a pretty amazing season for second-year players in 2018, sending a trio of them to the Pro Bowl in the form of first-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt, second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and third-round running back James Conner.
It’s not likely at all that they will come near duplicating that feat, but it’s very plausible that their starting lineup will feature three second-year players in first-round safety Terrell Edmunds—who is already starting—, second-round wide receiver James Washington, and third-round tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.
Edmunds started the first game of this rookie season due to veteran Morgan Burnett dealing with injuries, and once Burnett was injured again a week later, the first-round pick retained the job throughout the rest of the year. He certainly had his growing pains but developed into a more impactful player as the season progressed.
Washington actually already started for much of his rookie season as the number three receiver alongside Smith-Schuster and Mr. Big Head, but with the latter now gone, the full-time job is his for the taking, provided that he can best free agent signing Donte Moncrief.
As for Okorafor, he made one start at right tackle due to multiple injuries during his rookie season and now will be in competition to keep that job after the Steelers traded Marcus Gilbert. He will have to best Matt Feiler, who started 10 games last season, and Jerald Hawkins in order to do so, however.
I’m not asking which player is going to have the most impactful, or the most important season for the Steelers. This question is about their individual performance. Which of them, relative to their position, will be the highest performer; in other words, which will have the best season?