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T.J. Watt Tied for Third-Best Odds to Win Defensive Player of the Year

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Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is tied for the third-best odds to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year this upcoming season at 11/1, courtesy of BetOnline.ag. He is tied with his brother J.J. of the Houston Texans, also 11/1.

Watt finished third in DPOY voting last season and was named First-Team All-Pro in just his third season. He had a career year in 2019, leading the Steelers with 14.5 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss. His eight forced fumbles paced the league. Watt also grabbed two interceptions.

A Steelers player has been named NFL DPOY seven times, most recently safety Troy Polamalu in 2010. Former defensive end “Mean” Joe Greene is the only Pittsburgh player to win the award twice, in 1972 and 1974.

Two other Steelers have longshot odds to win DPOY in 2020. Second-year middle linebacker Devin Bush is 150/1, while veteran defensive end Cam Heyward is 200/1.

Entering his sophomore season out of Michigan, Bush had 72 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 2019.

Heyward was named First-Team All-Pro for the second time in 2019, posting 51 tackles, eleven tackles-for-loss and nine sacks.

Pittsburgh native and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the favorite to win the award at 7/1. It would be his third DPOY.

Steelers

JuJu Smith-Schuster Asks Fans to Give him Space

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JuJu Smith-Schuster is experiencing the negative side effect of living so much of his personal life in the public eye. The Steelers receiver, who is looking for a new NFL contract, took to Instagram to ask fans to leave him alone.

This stems from allegations that fans are showing up to his family home in California while he is there. Obviously, fans have no right to show up unwelcome anywhere to stalk an an athlete or celebrity, but this is just another example of the polarization of Smith-Schuster’s career. While he’s received much criticism, most notably this past season, for his sometimes over-the-top behavior and seemingly prioritizing his brand at all times, he also has many avid supporters who would stop at nothing to defend one of their favorite players.

Smith-Schuster is set to be a free agent in March for the first time in his professional career. If the Steelers should try to bring back the receiver has become a hot debate among Pittsburgh fans, so much so Smith-Schuster himself addressed the situation during a live Twitch sessions with fans.

Even Smith-Schuster’s play on the field is often up for debate. He totaled 97 receptions, but for only 831 yards with an average of just 8.6 yards per catch, which is significantly lower than his average from past seasons, including 15.8 his rookie year and 13.1 in 2019.

When it comes to JuJu Smith-Schuster, it’s always best to just stay tuned.

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Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger

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Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.

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Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?

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The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.

That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.

Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.

The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.

Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.

He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.

“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”

Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.

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