Which Steelers will contend for year-end awards in 2024?

Awards seem like a secondary honor to the prestige of hoisting a Super Bowl trophy, nonetheless, they are a part of the game to help acknowledge individual contributions throughout the NFL season.

While some fans may not like the idea of predicting awards during the preseason, this is a fun exercise to think of where some individual Steelers may be trending during and following the 2024 regular season. Here are some of my favorites to be in contention for the NFL Honors at the end of year.

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Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt

Any article of this nature has to kick off with Watt as a favorite to win an award. A three-time sacks leader in the NFL, Watt has been a finalist in four of the last five seasons. (With only an injury-filled season keeping him away from the ballots in 2022.)

Many people, myself included, feel that Watt should’ve won this award last season and was unfairly edged out back in 2020 as well. With the impact that this linebacker has on the game, a fire that continues to be filled by those who discount his efforts (I’m looking at you Pro Football Focus) it’s not outside the realm of plausibility that Watt will finish this season among the finalists yet again.

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Comeback Player of the Year: Russell Wilson

The NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award is presented to a player who shows perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, overcoming a severe injury, or simply a poor performance.

Wilson fits the criteria of being a former superstar player who has had a rough go his last few seasons. He seeks to turn his career around in Pittsburgh, and should Wilson do so, he should be an overwhelming favorite to win the award. (Which was given to Browns QB Joe Flacco last season.)

Team MVP: Russell Wilson

I also believe if Wilson has a “comeback” type of season, he will be the favorite to be named the Steelers MVP, as chosen by his teammates. If not, the award will likely go to a defensive player, such as T.J. Watt or Minkah Fizpatrick.

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Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award: TBD

I don’t believe enough recognition is given to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their contributions to the community as recognized by this award. According to Wikipedia:

Each year, a winner is selected from 32 nominees from the 32 different teams. A panel of judges, which includes the Commissioner of the NFL, the previous year’s winner, and a number of former players select the winner of the award. The Man of the Year winner receives a $250,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice. The other 31 finalists also receive donations in their name of $50,000 each to charities of their choice. The Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Chicago Bears have had more winners of the award than any other teams, with five winners each.

Currently, the Steelers have two of the only four active players to have won the award: last year’s winner Cameron Heyward and Russell Wilson (who won it in 2020 with the Seattle Seahawks). Among the other former Steelers to have earned the honor are Franco Harris (1976), Joe Greene (1979), Lynn Swann (1981), and Jerome Bettis (2001).

Though it’s unlikely for there to be a repeat winner this season, it’s not unexpected for someone from the team to take Heyward’s place and receive his and Wilson’s vote as part of the panel.

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Assistant Coach of the Year: Arthur Smith

With Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz taking this award home last season after turning the Browns defense around, there may not be anyone else better suited to headline this category in 2024 if Smith is able to make the Steelers offense a top ten threat.

Prior to Smith’s arrival, Pittsburgh’s offense failed to surpass the 400-yard mark in production for several years: 59 games to be exact, until they posted 421 yards of offense against the Bengals after Matt Canada‘s firing last November.

In 2020, Smith’s offense with the Tennessee Titans was second in yards. They were third and second in both of his seasons in this position with the Titans, posting 15 games with 400 or more yards of offense.

If he gets anywhere near those numbers with the Steelers, he will be a lock for this award.

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Defensive Rookie of the Year: Payton Wilson

An absolute longshot at this award as we go to press in July, Wilson might end up on the field sooner rather than later depending on the health of fellow inside linebacker Cole Holcomb. Holcomb, who suffered a knee injury midseason, may miss time early in the season. If he’s placed on the PUP list or Injured Reserve to start the season, that will delay Holcomb’s return for several games if not half of the year.

Enter Wilson, who fell down draft boards but was easily the best pure inside linebacker in an underwhelming draft class. With Elandon Roberts as more of a run-stopping backer, Wilson’s sideline-to-sideline speed and playmaking instincts could see him paired next to free agent signing Patrick Queen in the starting lineup.

Should Wilson’s play match his offseason hype, we could be looking at the second-coming of Ryan Shazier and potentially a player worthy of winning the award of being the best defensive rookie.

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