Though their 2019 season was a roller coaster ride, it wasn’t all bad for the Pittsburgh Steelers. There were many bright spots on the injury-riddled roster, and those bright spots should have fans feeling optimistic heading into 2020. With their 2019 season over, it’s time to give out awards to Pittsburgh Steelers players for their performance in 2019.
2019 Pittsburgh Steelers Team Awards
MVP: T.J. Watt
Depending how “most valuable” is defined, there could be a different answer here. But, T.J. Watt was dominant this year, though, and was voted the team MVP by his teammates. Watt absolutely stuffed the stat sheet this year. He finished the season with 14.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 36 quarterbacks hits, eight forced fumbles, two interceptions, and seven passes defended. His ridiculous speed and power for his size allowed him to consistently beat opposing right tackles on a weekly basis.
For his outstanding play on the season, Watt will be receiving some postseason awards. If he isn’t a first team all pro, something went wrong in the voting process. He will definitely receive votes for Defensive Player of the Year and should be one of the front runners for the award. Watt did it all for the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. He forced turnovers, gave opposing quarterbacks nightmares, dropped into pass coverage when asked, and played 87% of the team’s defensive snaps. For his durability and versatility, T.J. Watt is the Steelers 2019 MVP.
Offensive Player of the Year: David DeCastro
When an offensive lineman is a team’s offensive player of the year, it’s a good sign that the team’s offense wasn’t explosive. That was exactly the case with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019. The slew of injuries on the offensive side of the ball made it hard for them to ever find a rhythm. Despite that, right guard David DeCastro was his usual self. For yet another season, DeCastro was the best offensive lineman on the team. This year, that statement doesn’t hold as much weight as in years past, but he was the only consistently elite player on this unit this season.
For the third time in his eight-year career, DeCastro played every offensive snap for the Steelers. In 998 snaps, he was penalized just four times, zero of which were holding. His run-blocking continues to be among the best by any guard in the league. For his high level of play, DeCastro was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl and likely will be an all-pro for the fourth time.
Honorable mention: Diontae Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Here is the other guy who could have been voted the Pittsburgh Steelers team MVP. When Minkah Fitzpatrick came to the team after Week two, he allowed them to completely change the way they play defense. He is the ball hawk in the secondary that the team has been lacking since Troy Polamalu retired. Though a small sample size, the Steelers had a bottom ten defense in those two weeks without Fitzpatrick. After he was added, the defense became one of the best in the league, arguably the best. Pittsburgh would give up their 18th overall pick for a player of Fitzpatrick’s calendar ten times out of ten.
Like Watt, Fitzpatrick also stuffed the stat sheet this season. In 14 games with the Steelers this year, he had five interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and two defensive touchdowns. Eventually, opposing quarterbacks learned to stop throwing his way. In those same 14 games, Fitzpatrick allowed a passer rating of just 43.1 and a completion percentage of 50%. He was a secure tackler in the running game too, as a missed tackle percentage of 10.9 is the best mark of his career. Already arguably the best safety in the league, Fitzpatrick is only getting better and he will continue to anchor the new steel curtain for years to come.
Rookie of the Year: Diontae Johnson
This one comes down to two players, Diontae Johnson and Devin Bush. Johnson gets the nod here mostly due to the talent around each player. Bush was great this year, but he definitely benefited from playing with one of the best defenses in the league. Johnson, on the other hand, played great football despite dealing with revolving doors at both quarterback and wide receiver. When the personnel around him changed, Johnson continued to play great football. A third round pick, Johnson is yet another example of the Pittsburgh Steelers being the league’s best at drafting and developing wide receivers.
Johnson finished the year with 59 receptions (the most among rookies) for 680 yards and five touchdowns. He also had 31 first down receptions on the season. What doesn’t show up in the stat sheet is Johnson’s already-elite route running, as he was seemingly open on every play. With a competent quarterback and healthy weapons around him next season, Diontae Johnson absolutely has the potential to break out as a true number one receiver in the league. The talent is all there.
Honorable mention: Devin Bush
Bounceback Player of the Year: Chris Boswell
In 2017, Chris Boswell was one of the best kickers in the league. In 2018, he was without a doubt the worst kicker in the league. But in 2019 he was back to his elite ways. Last season Boswell missed 12 total kicks, seven field goals and five extra points. That number decreased to two this year, both of which were field goals, and one wasn’t his fault, as it came on a bad hold by Jordan Berry. The other miss was a 54-yard attempt which is a distance Boswell has never really had the leg for. He doesn’t have the strongest leg, but Boswell is back to his pinpoint accuracy ways, which was a huge boost to the worst red zone offense in the NFL.
Biggest Surprise: Steven Nelson
When Steven Nelson was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers last off-season, fans weren’t sure what to expect. He didn’t have a great season last year with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was surely better than any corner on the Steelers not named Joe Haden. But no one could have expected Nelson to be the lockdown corner that he was this season. He improved by every measure from last season. Only 50% of the passes thrown his way this year were completed. Quarterback’s passer rating when targeting Nelson was 64.2, down eight points from last year. He was a secure tackler too, as his six missed tackles were less than half of his 13 from last year. The biggest accomplishment of Steven Nelson this season was that he allowed zero touchdowns on 74 targets. No one saw this coming from Nelson, but now Pittsburgh fans are happy to have him in the steel city for at least the next three years.
Breakthrough Player of the Year: Bud Dupree
When the Pittsburgh Steelers took the $9.2 million option for Bud Dupree last off-season, fans were not happy. Dupree hadn’t lived up to his potential in his first four seasons in Pittsburgh. Though he was getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he only mustered up 20 sacks in his first four seasons.
This year, Dupree finally put it all together and totaled 11.5 sacks on the season. His biggest improvement was that he became an absolute force in the run game, too. Dupree’s 68 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 17 quarterbacks hits this year were all career highs. He also played 91% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps, by far a career high. Dupree played so well that it now might be hard for the Steelers to agree to a deal with him given their limited cap space. He seems to be their top priority this off-season though, as he should be. If Dupree continues to play as well as he did this year, he and Watt are a duo that the team will want together for as long as possible.
Biggest Disappointment: Randy Fichtner
Randy Fichtner didn’t have tons of talent to work with this year due to injuries, but he didn’t do a good job either. The offensive coordinator struggled to adjust to life without Ben Roethlisberger, and it really showed. Players need to make plays, but two games that Fichtner’s play calling had a huge effect on come to mind right away. In Pittsburgh’s first meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, Fichtner called a passing play out of the wildcat inside of their own ten yard line. Jaylen Samuels threw an interception and Pittsburgh spotted Baltimore seven points in a game that ended up going to overtime. The wildcat worked well the previous week against the Cincinnati Bengals, but there was no reason to be running it in that situation against a better, faster Ravens defense.
The other game was Week 15’s meeting with the Buffalo Bills, a game that had huge playoff implications. Pittsburgh had the ball first and goal at Buffalo’s 10-yard line heading to the two minute warning in the first half. The Steelers came out and attempted a read option out of the wildcat. James Conner, who hadn’t ran much wildcat all year and was coming off of a shoulder injury, and Diontae Johnson ran the option. After a bad snap, the handoff was muffed and the Steelers gave up at least three points in a game they lost by seven. It was the story of the season for the Steelers offense. Injuries mixed with questionable play calling was just too much to overcome, and a large part of that blame falls on Randy Fichtner.