Steelers 2021 Awards
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over but we’re going to take this moment to celebrate their year, not dwell on how things ended. Over the next several days, writers from the site will hand out their votes for a slew of black and gold awards. By the end, we’ll tally up all the votes to see who the winners are. Here, at least TJ Watt won’t be snubbed (or will he?).
We’ve broken this down into several categories: Offense and Defensive MVP, Rookie of the Year, Biggest Surprise and Disappointment, Play of the Year, Coach of The Year, 2022 Player to Watch, Best Addition, and Most Missed Player (a player the team lost and really couldn’t live without).
Here are my awards for the 2021 season.
Offensive MVP – Ben Roethlisberger
I chose Ben Roethlisberger as Offensive MVP. How many times did the Steelers offense start slow but then turned it on later in the game when Ben had more control of the play calling? Simply, a patchwork offensive line, wide receiver corps losing JuJu Smith-Schuster early in the season. Eric Ebron injured with rookie Pat Freiermuth becoming the primary tight end by season’s end. And Ben’s running Run-Pass-Option plays helping Najee to his 1200 rushing yards. Ben competing to the end as a field general, directing wide receivers and working with rookie center Kendrick Green for most of the season. Steelers do not sniff a winning record in 2021 without Ben taking the snaps in 2021.
Defensive MVP – T.J. Watt
Cam Heyward played valiantly following Tyson Alualu’s injury and the absence of Stephon Tuitt. But T.J. Watt consistently made big plays to keep the Steelers in games. In a combination effort, Watt returned the forced fumble for a touchdown to take the early lead in Kansas City. Then the fumble recovery and tying the NFL season sack record. Opposing offenses had to always account for Watt’s presence on the field.
Unsung Hero – Chris Boswell
Chris Boswell kicked winning field goals in four games including two in overtime. His fourth quarter field goal against Detroit preserved a tie. A fifth winning field goal overcome by a late Chargers touchdown. The magic of Boswell a key component in keeping the Steelers in the playoff hunt in 2021.
Rookie Of the Year – Najee Harris
Najee Harris somehow gained 1200 yards behind an inexperienced line. Leading the NFL with 366 touches helped as he gained 1,667 total yards from the line of scrimmage. He hurdled the rookie wall never fumbling the ball during the regular season. He showed toughness by finishing a game after hyperextending his elbow. Najee also showed awareness in picking up blockers. His 37-yard touchdown in Ben’s final home game shows what he can do behind an improved line in 2022.
Biggest Disappointment – Devin Bush
Devin Bush handicapped by a depleted defensive line. Still, too often he trailed plays and failed to shed blocks. I expected to see his lateral speed involved in many more tackles, but he often seemed late to contact. Bush recovering from last year’s ACL injury so another year may give him more confidence to play up to a number ten overall draft pick in 2022.
Play Of the Year – Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Sutton
I cannot limit the season to two plays. The two most significant to me was in the season finale. Cam Sutton intercepting the ball intended for Mark Andrews in the end zone to open the fourth quarter prevented the Ravens from extended their lead.
Then Minkah Fitzpatrick punching the ball out of Marquise Brown’s hands at the sideline with 25 seconds to play. Otherwise, Justin Tucker may have prevented the Steelers from reaching overtime. Two huge plays that helped propel the Steelers into the playoffs.
Coach Of the Year – Teryl Austin and Grady Brown
Minkah Fitzpatrick became a tackling machine. Often touchdown saving tackles after the front seven allowed explosive running plays by running backs who seemed downfield three to four yards before first contact. Despite the secondary called upon to backstop the front seven, the finished with a top ten team passing defense in yards and touchdowns yielded.
2022 Player to Watch – Pat Freiermuth
Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth scored seven touchdowns in 2021. With a new quarterback and a wide receiver corps in flux, his development is critical for the success of whomever is under center in 2022.
Best Addition – Dan Moore Jr.
More than 30 players played their first snap wearing the Black & Gold in 2021. Many played significant roles like Montravius Adams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Joe Haeg and others. However, Dan Moore anchored the left tackle position all season long. He played 99% of the snaps in the 16 games he started. The Steelers need to rebuild stout lines and I hope that Moore continues to improve and anchor one end of the line.
Most Missed – Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu
Stephon Tuitt’s absence and the early injury to Alualu impacted the Steelers defense. Their loss caused role players trying to fill their shoes. The rush defense surely needed their bolstering.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The 2021 season is over for the Steelers. Still some review to do, but perhaps it’s Time to Move On to 2022 by Tom Petty.