Cameron Heyward is in his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. T.J. Watt is in his fourth. The two defensive stalwarts have long established themselves as two of the best in the business at their craft, representing the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Minkah Fitzpatrick is not with them this year, however, they did get the opportunity to bring along two late additions on offense.
Both running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Diontae Johnson accepted invitations to the Pro Bowl as alternates after the Cincinnati Bengals advanced to the Super Bowl, eliminating Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase for the game. It is the first Pro Bowl for both. Heyward doesn’t expect it to be the last for either.
“They’re getting their feet wet. It’s nice for them to see what their attributes did this year and how they balled out this year”, he told reporters at the Pro Bowl practices on Thursday. “They should get addicted to this. This should just be the norm. This should be something where you bring more guys along, and hopefully you’re busy, but this is something we’ve got to continue to work on”.
For Harris, of course, he is now one-for-one, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He is the first Steelers rookie to make the Pro Bowl since center Maurkice Pouncey in 2010, though several have made it as second-year players, most recently Fitzpatrick in 2019 (and James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster the year before that).
Johnson is making his first Pro Bowl in year three after his best season. He caught 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns, all career-highs. He became just the fourth player in Steelers history to record a 100-reception season, behind Hines Ward, Antonio Brown (who did it six times), and Smith-Schuster.
Both young players set out this season to make the Pro Bowl. Johnson discussed it during an interview with Pro Football Focus, though Harris said late in the season that his personal goals gradually morphed into team goals.
Both of them had to actively accept the invitation to attend the Pro Bowl as alternates, however, which clearly means that this is something they wanted. If an alternate doesn’t want to show up for the game, he just gets passed over for the next alternate and does not receive credit as a Pro Bowler, whereas a player who is actually voted in does not have to attend the game.
Can either of them turn themselves into perennial Pro Bowlers? The Steelers had a pair with that kind of talent not too long ago in Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Of course, finding the right quarterback and rebuilding the offensive line will help everybody’s cause.