The 2019 season, was one that tested the resilience of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though this year's squad failed to make the playoffs, there were certain players who stood out, and helped making team that many had predicted to completely collapse, into one that was respectable. Here is our list of players who defined this year's Steelers.
1. TJ Watt
There are very few words that can describe the type of impact player Tj Watt was this past season. To put it into perspective, his 14.5 sacks were only 1.5 sacks shy of James Harrison's franchise record. According Steelers communication manager Michael Bertsch, Watt became the only player in the last 30 seasons, to record 8 forced fumbles, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions in a single season. To add to his impressive resume, no defensive player since the start of the 2017 season, has recorded more forced fumbles than Watt. He was a consummate threat to opposing quarterbacks in each game he played this season. Since his rookie season, he has made vast improvements on his pass rushing techniques, which were in full display this past season. The level of importance he had on this year's team cannot be understated. He is the true embodiment of the standard that has made the Steelers one of the most respected franchises in professional sports.
2. Minkah Fitzpatrick
Giving up a first round pick is one of the most difficult decisions an organization can make, especially when they are struggling. In the case of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the decision to trade a first round pick in the upcoming draft, was one the boldest and brightest moves of the Mike Tomlin era. Minkah was an immediate impact player right from his first game in a Steelers uniform against the San Francisco 49ers in week 3. In that game, he recorded an interception and a forced fumble. For the first five weeks, Minkah averaged at least one turnover in every game. His five interceptions this season, were the most by a Steelers defender since Troy Polamalu collected seven in 2010. His addition changed the entire complexion of the defense, as they became one of the top turnover units in the NFL. All in all, it was a first round pick well-spent.
3. Diontae Johnson
Over the last decade, the Pittsburgh Steelers have built a reputation in drafting and developing receivers who later become Pro Bowl or All-Pro caliber players. If anything can be said about Diontae Johnson after his stellar rookie season, he is well on his way to becoming another in a long list of Steelers great receivers. His 59 receptions not only led all rookie receivers this season, they were second in Steelers history for a rookie. His 59 receptions not only led all rookie receivers this season, they were second in Steelers history for a rookie. Johnson also had the distinction of being named AFC Special Teams Player of The Week, for his 85-yard punt return touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in week 14. The Steelers offense in general, did not have many playmakers, yet Johnson seemed to already rise to the occasion when they needed a boost.
4. Bud Dupree
Bud Dupree's breakout season in 2019, was one that was years in the making. Dupree had always been known for his tremendous athletic abilities, but this was the season where he successfully integrated them consistently, and emerged as one of their biggest impact players. Alongside his partner in crime TJ Watt, they formed arguably the best pass rushing tandem in the NFL, who wreaked havoc in opposing backfields. In addition to setting career highs in sacks with 11.5, he set personal bests in total tackles with 49, quarterback hits with 17, and his 16 tackles for loss placed him in the top 5 among all defensive players. Dupree truly came into his own this season and all signs point him not slowing down anytime soon.
5. Cameron Heyward
No Pittsburgh Steeler in the last decade, has been a model of consistency and durability as defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. This past season, he showed no signs of slowing down, if anything, he only got better as the season continued. This past season, he recorded his third straight season with 8+ sacks, and set a career best in total tackles with 83. When fellow lineman Stephon That fell to a season-ending injury, Heyward persisted and carried a defensive line on his back. Heyward was exemplary all season, leading by example and displayed his resilience in games where they struggled.Defensive players have come and gone in the last few seasons, yet Heyward continues to show why he is irreplaceable.
6. James Washington
The leap James Washington took, following a disappointing rookie season in 2018, was remarkable to say the least. His improvement in production this season, was similar to that from freshman to sophomore year at Oklahoma State in 2014 and 2015. Not only did he emerge as the Steelers leading receiver in yards, he also led in yards per reception with 16.7. Known primarily for his deep routes, Washington ability to produce on short and intermediate routes, was a catalyst for his increase in production. What defines him as a receiver, is his ability to make catches of high degree of difficulty, such as his touchdown reception in week 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals. His performance this season could serve as a sign of greater things to come.