Predicting some non-traditional “awards” for the 2021 Steelers.
I posted an article recently projecting who would be the Steelers’ 2020 MVP, Rookie of the Year, and other familiar awards. In this piece, part 2 of the same project, I wanted to speculate about some less traditional “awards” for the upcoming season.
Just like with the previous essay, I’ll include a short descriptor to each, and make a case for who I’ve picked. But I’ll also include a poll for each category, including “other” as an option (in case you feel like I missed an important choice).
My goal, as always, is to start a few arguments in the comments section, so have at it. Also, since there is an opportunity to revisit this stuff at midseason or the end of the year, if anyone has a suggestion for a category to add, toss it out in the comments. On with the show. Go Steelers.
The shorthand list. Explanations and polls to follow.
People’s Choice Award: Pressley Harvin
People’s Goat “Award”: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Biggest (projected) Disappointment: Pre-Snap Motion
Pleasant Surprise: Short Yardage
Weakest Link: O-Line
Unsung Hero: Terrell Edmunds
Biggest Loss: Mike Hilton
Addition by Subtraction: Randy Fichtner
Biggest Wish for Regular Season: 6-0 division record
* Note: I’m not including the beloved “Isaac Redman Award.” That’s not my award to give. Stay tuned for that conversation from other BTSC characters. *
People’s Choice Award –
This is a good place to start. I think there are guys that, every time they do something (anything), we all get stoked. Think of fans belting “Heeeeeth” after every catch. Or how Brett Keisel’s beard became a sensation while he was playing Pro Bowl level. Who do you expect to say, “man, I love this guy!” at least once or twice per game?
My Choice: Pressley Harvin. Poor Jordan Berry. He worked hard and got better. But we’ve gotten so used to terrible punting in this town that Harvin’s leg has already gotten people bubbling. The fact that he’s also 263 and looks like a linebacker five years after retirement, just makes him even easier to root for.
People’s Goat “Award” –
Let’s have some real talk, Steelers Nation: we are not always fair. And there are some players who work hard, and play well enough that we should have their backs, but who (for whatever reason) the fan base just hates. If you were a fan in the late 90s and early 2000s, you might think of Kordell Stewart as a good example. Rashard Mendenhall is another — a two-time 1000 yard rusher who carried the offense during Ben’s 2010 suspension, but was oddly hated by many. Or Bud Dupree, who was actually quite good early in his career, but struggled to finish sacks (though he still generated pressures), before breaking-out in 2019. These guys weren’t necessarily stars, but they weren’t bums either — they’re perfectly good players who are just detested for some reason.
My Choice: JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu is the author of his own misery, for his tik-tok dances and terrible comments (ahem, “Browns is Browns”). But he also makes really tough, physical, and clutch catches all over the field, blocks hard in the running game, and never complains about targets. I get why some people can’t stand him (and I really wish he’d knock it off with the disrespect to opponents), but he contributes a lot.
Biggest (projected) Disappointment –
This is not necessarily a unit or strategy that fails miserably. Rather, I’m thinking of it as an element of the team that appears to be a strength (or at least solid), but which you think will wind up disappointing us all. Last year, you might have pointed to the talented WR crop, who just kept dropping the ball. Or the way the team, which used to always finish regular seasons on a tear, sputtered down the stretch last year. See what I mean? Nothing would make me happier than to have all of these areas remain strengths, but no one can know just yet. What’s making you nervous?
My Choice: Pre-Snap Motion. I know Matt Canada figures to be a huge upgrade over Randy Fichtner (setting the bar a little low, are we?), but when people describe his philosophy, the only thing they seem to point to is stuff like this: pre-snap motion, jet-sweeps, tricky formations, etc. This stuff always seems a little gimmicky to me. I’m sure Canada has a lot more in his bag than these (or I hope so; I wish someone could tell me about that stuff), but I have a feeling these mis-directions will be played out by midseason, like they were last year (when the jet sweeps, which were very successful for a while, became a liability).
Pleasant Surprise –
This is the opposite of the Biggest Disappointment: the area that we’re most concerned about based on recent history, but that you predict will be a strength this season.
My Choice: Short yardage offense. There’s a lot of cautious optimism about Najee Harris this summer. And with good reason. But if we’re being honest, most of us will hold our breath on the first 3rd and 1 against Buffalo.
I have a suspicion that the Steelers will get a lot stronger in that area.
Ben isn’t coming off of a major injury, so that ought to help everything. And the addition of Harris is an obvious plus, who is a hard runner, an agile ball-carrier (who needs to stop going airborne in the open field), and a strong receiver. But the Steelers also added Pat Freiermuth next to Eric Ebron, then retained JuJu Smith-Schuster, and still have physical specimen Chase Claypool making the year-two-leap. (And that doesn’t even mention WRs Diontae Johnson and James Washington, power backs Kalen Ballage and Benny Snell, and fullback Derek Watt.) The offensive line is a wild card, but this ought to be a good short-yardage team. We’ll see.
Weakest Link –
This one is simple and probably self-explanatory. In choosing the options, I decided to emphasize units rather than individual players, since players could be replaced if they aren’t measuring up. For example, if we thought the weak link last year was “RB,” that wouldn’t indicate only James Conner; it would mean all the guys behind him too, who couldn’t beat him out.
My Choice: Offensive Line. I’m going for the low-hanging fruit here. But I have a feeling this one is going to win in a walk. A lot has been said about the offensive line, and I’ll bet it won’t be as bad as expected. But I can’t think of a unit or facet that is definitely weaker.
Biggest Loss –
A team can feel the absence of a missing man in a lot of ways – sometimes it’s because their physical presence is missing; sometimes it’s their leadership; sometimes it’s their intelligence. Which figure left the biggest hole?
My Choice: Mike Hilton. Hilton wasn’t much of a cover corner. He got interceptions, but he was usually in the slot, and therefore freer to jump a route than the outside guys, since he usually had players behind him. However, he was a great run defender, and the best pass-rushing corner in the NFL for several years running. A big hitter as a defensive back is hard to find; a big play man is too. Pack all of that in a slot man with good hands, and he’s going to be tough to replace.
Addition by Subtraction –
The opposite of “Biggest Loss,” this one is about getting rid of dead weight. It doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, though it probably sounds that way. Some of these guys were in the way of an up-and-comer (e.g. jettisoning Clark Haggans to make way for James Harrison); others were talented players who’d lost their wings or whose bodies gave out. And there’s the occasional head case too (there’s certainly one of those below). Many were beloved figures, but all seemed to be liabilities by the end. Who’s departure will help the Steelers improve the most?
My Choice: Randy Fichtner. Again, I’ll grab the easy one here. I don’t know what happened to Fichtner, who seemed to run a very good (if a little one-dimensional) offense in 2018. But boy were the Steelers hard to watch last season. One yard pass. One yard pass. Sixty yard incompletion. Punt. Yikes.
Unsung Hero –
This is also probably self-explanatory, but let’s say the Unsung Hero is a secret weapon of sorts – a player who never seems to get his due in the talking-head world, and who frequently gets ignored or disrespected even down here in the cheap seats, but who does the damned job and does it well.
My Choice: Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is one of those guys who gets maligned often, but is actually pretty solid as a player. He’s never been a takeaway machine, and that’s why (I think) he has a bad rep. But I did a stat breakdown on the various position groups in 2020 (link HERE), and Edmunds was surprisingly effective. He very quietly had an outstanding 2020 season, and is playing on a contract year this year. Safeties work off of each other a lot, and this is year three of the Terrell-and-Minkah show. I have a feeling he still won’t get a ton of picks or press, but I suspect he’ll be playing well.
Biggest Wish for the Regular Season —
I’m not including “Steelers win the Super Bowl” because that’s too easy. I’m also not including any of the obvious steps along the way (like “Steelers go undefeated” or “Steelers get the 1-seed”). Those things are too broad — we all want them. Instead, these options are a little more modest, and therefore both likelier and more debatable.
My Choice: 6-0 division record. Every year I wish for this, because pretty much every year the AFC North is the best division in the league (or at least has an argument for it). Sweeping the Ravens is always hard, and usually has playoff seeding implications. But the Bengals and Browns have also had several runs of success over the last 20 years (Cleveland is currently the darling). To sweep this division is to be a terrific football team.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but if the Steelers had gone 6-0 in the division last year, they’d have taken the AFC’s #1 seed and only bye.
So that’s my wish. What’s yours?
Alright, with that, let’s argue a little in the comments. And then let’s play some regular season football. Go Steelers.