Last season was the first time in four years that the Pittsburgh Steelers had not reached the playoffs at the end of the regular season. No resolution was found with Le’Veon Bell who is now with the New York Jets, while Antonio Brown is no longer on the roster after being traded to the Oakland Raiders.
With a new era set to unfold in 2019 in Pittsburgh, head coach Mike Tomlin will be on a warmer seat this year, and he has to hope other players in his ranks step up and establish themselves as the new stars in the team. Here are three men who could be set for a huge season.
Interior linebacker Devin Bush was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, 10th overall. Expect to see the Michigan graduate go straight into the lineup where he is sure to improve the overall defense. His position was the priority going into the draft as they needed a replacement for Ryan Shazier and those in the war room were very pleased they got their man.
In his junior year in college in 2018, Bush made 80 tackles and had 5 sacks which was enough to earn him numerous accolades including the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year. Bush was also named in the All-Big Ten and a consensus All-American.
Pittsburgh were ranked ninth in the tackles’ standings in the NFL in 2018 and sixth in yards given up. Those positions could improve this year with the inclusion of Bush who can be expected to have an immediate impact in his rookie campaign.
With 111 catches and 1,426 receiving yards in 2018, Juju Smith-Schuster was one of the standout players on the offense last season. In what will be his third campaign in the NFL, the 22-year-old is going to need to repeat or even improve on his statistics this year.
As of 26th August, the Steelers are +1800 on Betway for the Super Bowl, the biggest odds they have begun a campaign with for a number of years. If Smith-Schuster continues to progress at the rate he has been going, he could be key for Pittsburgh in their bid to reach Hard Rock Stadium in Florida in February.
One of the reasons the Steelers were so content with trading Brown to the Raiders was because they believe in the ability Smith-Schuster has and they are confident he will grow to become one of the best wide receivers in the league.
The second-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft has all the attributes you’d look for in a WR. He has good size, is explosively quick and has a great pair of hands. The issue Smith-Schuster may have in 2019 is that teams will be looking to put double coverage on him. If he continues scoring touchdowns with that treatment against him, he really does justify the Steelers’ decision to let go of Brown.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have been working very hard with his receivers in the off-season to try and strike a similar bond he had with Brown who has been his go-to man for a number of years. One of the new slot receivers in Pittsburgh is Diontae Johnson who will be hoping to get lots of playing time in 2019. The former Toledo Rocket was picked in the third round of the draft back in April. Johnson is regarded as an excellent route-runner, something which could add a new dimension into the Steelers’ offense.
What is interesting about the selection of Johnson, is that it is one of the picks Pittsburgh received from Oakland as part of the deal for Brown. If Johnson proves to have anywhere near as much success as Brown, he will be a fantastic acquisition. The 23-year-old had a standout year in the MAC. He scored eight touchdowns in 13 games in 2018 with 761 receiving yards.
Tomlin is unlikely to expect too much from Johnson in his first year but if he gets off to a good start, expect to see him have more receptions as the year progresses.
The Steelers open up their 2019 NFL season against the Super Bowl defending champions New England Patriots in Foxborough.
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