Prior to each of the last three seasons, I’ve selected a player on the Steelers’ team who I believe is the most important one. This is always someone not named Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell or Cam Heyward. Without any of those four guys, forget it.
This player is someone whose presence and ability to play well is vital to the success of the Steelers this season. My prior three selections were Kelvin Beachum (good choice), Lance Moore (not so good choice) and DeAngelo Williams (excellent choice). So, without further ado, my most important Pittsburgh Steeler for 2016 is….
The former free agent safety enters his third year with the Steelers and his presence in the Steelers’ secondary could not be more important this season.
Besides veteran corner William Gay, Mitchell finds himself with youth and relative inexperience elsewhere. Ross Cockrell made solid strides last season but now Mitchell must continue to guide Rob Golden while mentoring guys like rookie Sean Davis, Shamarko Thomas and Jordan Dangerfield.
Because of his past injuries (four shoulder surgeries) and aggressive style of play, Mitchell has to stay on the field as much as possible. Take him off the field and you’ll have a group of safeties that have little experience and less speed as well.
I was not a Mike Mitchell fan during his first year. I thought he missed way too many tackles and was out of position more often than he should have been but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt as he dealt with injuries most of that season.
Last year, he was much better both in tackling and in coverage. Although I can do without the “celebrating a big hit after the ball carrier has picked up 12 yards” I’ll live with it because Mitchell’s value to this defense now is huge. I think Mitchell has figured out what being a Pittsburgh Steeler is all about and I think the influence of Mike Tomlin has been a positive one for him.
There were other players up for consideration for this but in the end I kept coming back to Mitchell. The stability he provides along the last line of defense is just too valuable in my opinion to be overlooked in 2016.