The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a bit of a rollercoaster of a season thus far. They are right in the thick of things in a complicated AFC playoff picture and currently have a record of 5-4-1. Head Coach Mike Tomlin is attempting to extend his streak of non-losing seasons, but this team has the ability to do more than just get to 8-8-1. While we as fans appreciate all players and their efforts, the most important pieces down the stretch may be a group of players who Steelers fans should be exceptionally thankful for this year. The Steelers shouldn’t be thankful for the NFL schedule makers as they have a brutal schedule in the final two months of the season, but here are the players that mean a significant amount to fans this season:
1.) Cameron Heyward
I easily could have put another defensive game changer at #1, but Heyward has been fully healthy and is playing like a man in his early to mid-20s. According to DraftKings, his odds are set at 1000/1 to be the Defensive Player of the Year. While he won’t win the award, he surely deserves more credit than to have the same odds as Bears linebacker, Khalil Mack, who is out for the season. His seven deflected passes and four and a half sacks have been proven game changers for the team. The leadership he possesses on and off the field is extremely valuable and the city of Pittsburgh is lucky to have someone like Heyward to represent its football team and city.
2.) T.J. Watt
Although Watt has missed two games due to injury, he has been an absolute game wrecker for the Steelers defense. The contract extension he signed in early September had Steeler Nation everywhere ecstatic to have locked him up long term. Not only does he have 12.5 sacks, but adds three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries to his season stat line. It isn’t just his stats, however. Watt allows Heyward and Alex Highsmith the ability to get into the backfield more. The preparation that goes into dealing with Watt alone certainly has NFL Head Coaches and Offensive Coordinators losing sleep at night. He is so much fun to watch and it is great to have him in the Steel City.
3.) Chris Boswell
The two players above are most likely the team’s two MVPs, but a case could be made for Boswell. He has ice in his veins and is one of the most reliable kickers in all of the NFL. It is so comforting to have a guy that you can count on. He was excellent again in a tough loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night. He is 21/22 this year and a perfect 6/6 from longer than 50 yards. His field goal stats are superior to those of Baltimore Ravens kicker, Justin Tucker (aside from Tucker’s NFL record breaking 66-yard field goal). It has taken a couple years for Boswell to create this reputation in Pittsburgh after a rough 2018 season. Credit to the Steelers front office for sticking with him, but more credit to Boswell. We are certainly thankful for his reliability.
4.) Najee Harris
Alas, the running back of the future has arrived. A true workhorse, Harris seems to have locked up the Steelers lead back job for at least the next four years. He leads the NFL with 237 total touches and as the offensive line improves this season and beyond, he is going to capable of having a Hall of Fame career if he can stay healthy. While I am overjoyed for James Conner and what he has done in Arizona, not many running backs could be as effective as Harris has been with a makeshift offensive line. No one on the coaching staff can tell Harris to go home after practice because he is committed to getting better. That is a guy that you want on your team for his entire career. The drive and passion he has to be successful and help his team win is remarkable and very rare for someone just 23 years of age.
5.) Pat Freiermuth
Another rookie is being put on this list and it’s because of his likability and comparability to Heath Miller. Sure, the fumble in overtime against the Detroit Lions hurts, but Freiermuth has proven to be a solid and reliable target other than that. Harris and Freiermuth have started a terrific foundation and will make it a little easier on whoever is at the helm after Ben Roethlisberger retires. A Steeler tight end hasn’t had over 100 targets in a season since Miller in 2012 and Freiermuth could get very close to that number by season’s end. A security blanket is extremely important, especially in the Steelers current offensive state and having a rookie tight end with so much upside should have Steelers fans everywhere extremely thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, #SteelerNation!
Which players are you most thankful for this year? Let us know in the comments below!