The Pittsburgh Steelers made their third Super Bowl appearance in six years last season, but if they are going to make another lengthy playoff run three players who were rookies must step up their games this season.
Inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, cornerback Crezdon Butler and wideout Antonio Brown could be future superstars, but certainly should be bigger contributors this season.
Sylvester is the likely successor to veteran James Farrior, although despite entering his 15th NFL season does not appear to be slowing down too much. Farrior has played the past nine seasons for the Steelers after beginning his career in 1997 with the New York Jets.
Sylvester had a strong finish to last season as the team’s top special teams performer. He had 14 tackles and one forced fumble. He should replace veteran free-agent backup Keyaron Fox, who committed a costly personal foul in the Super Bowl and doesn’t have Sylvester’s athleticism.
Butler made just one tackle in four games and whiffed on a chance to make a big play late in the season when he was thrown into the action, but the Steelers like his up-side and believe he will be a good corner someday. This has to be the season when Butler takes the next step, however.
Not only do the Steelers need to be able to count on him on special teams, but he needs to be able to contribute in passing situations as well. Butler played for a highly-ranked defense and Clemson and had 11 interceptions, so while he’s not the biggest player he has good coverage skills and speed.
Brown had a decent rookie season, but he will be the No. 4 receiver on a full-time basis this year because the Steelers need to utilize his speed. He also will be the top returner. In nine games, he had 16 receptions for 167 yards, returned 17 kickoffs for a 23.4-yard average with one spectacular 89-yard touchdown off a reverse and ran back 19 punts for nearly six yards a clip.