For as much as many fans seem to hate it, or at least not care at all, the Pittsburgh Steelers have long recognized what Tyler Matakevich brings to the table on special teams. He’s blocked punts. He broken up fake punts. He’s consistently among the most reliable players on special teams, and if he weren’t out there, things would be worse.
Perhaps fans at least are starting to notice. He ended up leading the AFC fan voting for the Pro Bowl for the special teams slot, beating out perennial favorite Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots, who has long been an automatic write-in.
“I wasn’t even paying attention to it”, he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of the fan voting, which officially closed yesterday. “But it’s pretty cool. I know it’s only one part of it, but just to get the fan vote is pretty cool”.
The fan vote is just one third of what determines who makes the Pro Bowl, with coaches and players also accounting each for one third of the voting. Matakevich is one of six Steelers (four on defense) who led their positions in fan voting. And as he thought it over more, the significance started to sink in.
“That would mean everything”, he admitted, of the opportunity to be honored as a Pro Bowler. “Shoot, that’s one of the highest things I could get at this level. It would be a tremendous honor to be recognized throughout the league for your play”. He added, “it shows that all the hard work you have to put in is really paying off”.
Matakevich has 15 tackles on special teams this season, which is tied with Derek Watt for the most in the NFL this season. Over the course of the past three seasons, he leads all players with 29 tackles, three more than anybody else. Since entering the league in 2016, he has 36 special teams tackles. Only one player is within five tackles of him during that span, defensive back Michael Thomas.
A seventh-round pick out of Boston College, Matakevich was quick to emerge as a favorite, and had a lot of support during his rookie season. When he was running with the starters in the preseason in his second year, however, he struggled, and his backers quickly grew quiet or turned into detractors. Now only those who recognize his special teams value seem to care much about him, with many believing he is wasting a roster spot.
Would Pro Bowl recognition change their minds? Probably not. Would Matakevich care? Probably not. He knows what his coaches and peers think.