Now that training camp has been around for a week and the Steelers first preseason game is only a day away it seems like an appropriate time to start previewing the regular season. I may still be a little bit early, but here we go anyway. Here are my projections for the Steelers End Of Year Awards
The Pick: Le’Veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell was already a top back last year as a rookie, despite missing a few games and running behind a far less than stellar offensive line. Now that he has a year of experience under his belt and the offensive line is much improved he should be in for an even better year. I expect Bell to flirt 300 touches this year (260 carries and 40 receptions). If he is able to reach those numbers while averaging 4-4.5 yards per rush and 8-9 yards per reception, he would be on pace to reach 1,100 rush yards and 325 receiving yards. If Bell could couple that production with 8-10 total touchdowns then he would be an integral piece of the Steelers offensive success. It’s no doubt that Big Ben will pace the offense like he does every year. If Bell can reach that production, however, I think it could have a much bigger impact on the offense than if Ben reaches his usual numbers. That, in my opinion, is worthy of being the offensive player of the year.
The Pick: Troy Polamalu
Last year Troy was as good as he has been a long while, and he did it all while having to play out of position on third downs because of how bad whoever was playing next to Lawrence Timmons was in coverage. This year he will be able to return to his natural position, while also have a much better partner to team up with in Mike Mitchell. If he is able to stay healthy, which is the biggest x-factor in all this, I don’t think it’s out
of the question that he could reach 85 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions. Those would be the best overall numbers he has had since the 2011 season. Which, not so coincidentally, is the last time he completed a full 16 game season without having to play linebacker a good chunk of the time. If Polamalu could reach those numbers he would not only be helping out his fellow secondary members, but also the linebackers.
Rookie Of The Year
The Pick: Ryan Shazier
Not much to write or say about this pick. Shazier figures one of the few rookies to start for the Steelers in recent memory. He should make an immediate impact playing next to Lawrence Timmons and will feast off of the many left overs that slip through the fingers of the defensive line. It has been all rave reviews out of camp for Shazier. If he plays how he is being advertised by camp visitors and the coaching staff, then he should have no problem solidifying his place atop the rookie class, and maybe even near the top of the defense. In my opinion, he reaches 80 tackes, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. That’s pretty good production for a rookie in a Dick LeBeau defense. He has all of the pieces to be a key contributor long term.
The Pick: Antonio Brown
Does this really come at any surprise? Brown is such a valuable piece of this team that there really isn’t anyone else, other than Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, and Troy, who would be deserving of the award. When he is at his best he is nearly impossible to cover, both before and after the catch. Plus he is among the elite return men in the league. It is very likely that he will once again reach or surpass 105 catches, 1300 yards, and 8 touchdowns. He will also undoubtedly provide a spark on special teams every now and then when he’s used. Especially now that Markus Wheaton will be the starter opposite of Brown, his production will have an even greater impact on the offense. Not only will Brown provide a highly reliable target for Big Ben, but he will also surely take up double teams on most plays. That should open up holes in coverage for Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, and crew to find production of their own. Brown’s prowess as an underneath/YAC receiver and Wheaton’s deep speed figures to form a very nice combination.