2 Key Players to Watch Out For on the Steelers in 2019

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers somewhat surprisingly missed out on the playoffs a season ago, as the Baltimore Ravens claimed the AFC North title, instead. The Steelers went just 9-6-1 on the year, and this past offseason was marked by the high-profile departures of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Bell signed with the Jets as a free agent, while Brown was traded to the Raiders. 

 

So, the Steelers will look like a different team heading into the 2019 regular season. Most football betting sites have the Steelers, Ravens and Browns with similar odds to win the AFC North. Cleveland has been a trendy pick after an uptick in performance last year, but the Steelers look like a safer bet thanks to their veteran-laden roster. 

 

While Ben Roethlisberger and Juju Smith-Schuster are the big names that will have to step up in order for the Steelers to make it back to the playoffs next year, a number of others may well fly under the radar. Pittsburgh will get back to the top of the division if the defense reasserts itself as one of the best in the league. Here’s why Devin Bush and Cameron Heyward are the keys to the Steelers’ success in 2019. 

 

Devin Bush (LB)

 

It’s hard to ask for too much from a rookie, but Devin Bush comes to Pittsburgh with plenty of high expectations. The first-year player is being tasked with filling the void vacated by Ryan Shazier, so he’s following in some big footsteps. Shazier, of course, suffered what looks to be a career-ending injury late in the 2017 season. He hasn’t set foot on the field since. 

 

So, the Steelers drafted Bush with the 10th overall pick in the draft this past April. The 21-year-old earned a number of accolades during his time at Michigan, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year last season. He was also a consensus All-American last year and a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten player in each of the last two years. 

 

The Steelers have a decorated history when it comes to inside linebackers. Lawrence Timmons manned the position for 10 years before Shazier took over, while James Farrior held the position before Timmons. Farrior racked up 100 or more tackles in six seasons with the team, while Timmons did the same. 

 

While Bush may not start in Week 1, it’s fair to assume he will grow into a starting role as the season progresses. Teams have expectations for their first-round picks right away these days, so I’d be surprised if Bush didn’t contribute quite a bit during his first pro season. Shazier was eased into the role back during his own rookie season, but I think Bush will force his way onto the field thanks to his game-changing ability. 

 

Cameron Heyward (DL)

 

Cameron Heyward was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2011. He didn’t grow into a leadership role right away, but he has since become one of the most impactful defensive linemen in all of football. In 2018, Heyward racked up a total of 51 tackles along with eight sacks, which was enough to earn him a second consecutive appearance in the Pro Bowl.

 

Heyward has the ability to play all over the defensive line, which gives him more versatility than most who battle in the trenches. Heyward’s sack totals tend to be a bit light considering defensive tackles don’t typically compile prolific numbers in that regard, but he has still been remarkably productive wherever he lines up. 

 

Heyward helped the Steeler defense improve last season. While it didn’t amount to a playoff appearance, the defense still finished a respectable sixth against the run, allowing just over 96 yards per game. Pittsburgh was also tied for first with 52 total sacks. T.J. Watt paced the team with 13 of his own, but Watt and the other pass-rushers wouldn’t have as much room to operate if Heyward wasn’t on the inside attracting plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines. Two years ago, when the Steelers finished with 57 sacks, Heyward had 12 to his name.

 

Watt may get more of the accolades, thanks in no small part to his famous brother, but Cam Heyward is the straw that stirs the drink for this defense. If the Steelers are going to get past the Ravens and Browns and win the AFC North for the first time in a couple of years, Heyward and Bush will both need to have impactful seasons. 

 

 

 

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