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2011 Steelers: Top 5 Players Who Will Show the Most Improvement

Ahmad RashadAnalyst INovember 15, 2016

2011 Steelers: Top 5 Players Who Will Show the Most Improvement

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    In 2010, the Steelers had several players step up in many ways. Whether it was on offense, defense or special teams, they made an impact somewhere on the team.

    Entering the 2011 season, five players come to mind who I think will step their game up from last year. Now just because they are on this list, it doesn't mean they had a bad year.

    So without further ado, here is my list of the top five Steelers who will show the most improvement in 2011.

5. Antonio Brown

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    Drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Antonio Brown wasn't expected to make a big impact on the team.

    Yet in Week 2, in Brown's first ever NFL start, he took an end around 89 yards to the house, on the game's opening kickoff.

    He would later succeed in taking the fifth receiver spot form Randle El and contributed by catching a slant or running a screen here and there.

    It was in the playoffs, however, where Brown contributed the most. Against the Ravens, he made a perfect helmet catch on the sideline on 3rd-and-19, which led to the game-winning score.

    A week later in the AFC Championship against the Jets, Brown caught the game-clinching pass on 3rd-and-6 to send the Steelers to the Super Bowl.

    He proved to all of us that pressure was no big deal to him. That's a quality you need to have in order to be a Steeler. 

    Now with a full year of experience under his belt, I expect Antonio Brown to make a huge leap in 2011.


    Projected 2011 stats

    30 rec, 425 yards, 3 TDs 

4. Emmanuel Sanders

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    After starting the season as the fourth wide receiver, Sanders eventually surpassed Randle El for the third receiver spot.

    While his rookie season wasn't as impressive as Mike Wallace's, he still managed to reel in 28 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns.

    What impressed me the most was how he handled Antonio Cromartie in week 15. On that day, Sanders grabbed seven catches for 79 yards.

    He would have caught the potential game-winning pass, if he hadn't been held by Cromartie (which wasn't flagged) who he had beat clean.

    On that day, I knew the Steelers were going to have another special receiver for the future. 

    Even though Sanders will still be the third receiver, he's clearly more than a match for any nickelback in the league.

    In 2011, Sanders will become more of a factor in the passing game and one of Big Ben's favorite targets.


    Projected 2011 Stats

    35 rec, 556 yards, 4 TDs

3. Rashard Mendenhall

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    When people talk about the top rushers in the league, the most common names mentioned are Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones Drew and Arian Foster.

    Be prepared to add Mendenhall to that list. Even though he has probably the worst offensive line, he has still managed to have consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards rushing.

    Last year, Mendenhall almost doubled his 2009 touchdown total with 13. I don't think it's too far fetched to believe he can do better in 2011.

    With the offensive line looking better and the improvements in the passing game, there is no reason why Mendenhall shouldn't find greater success in 2011. 


    Projected 2011 Stats

    305 carries, 1425 rush yards, 321 rec yards, 14 TDs, 4.8 YPC

2. LaMarr Woodley

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    LaMarr Woodley? What? Yes he's on this list. Before you call me crazy, please hear me out.

    Is Woodley a dominant player? Yes he is. Has he put together a complete season? No he has not. If you haven't noticed yet, there seems to be a common theme with him.

    Woodley either starts the season fast and slacks off, or he gets off to a slow start and finishes strong.

    From the start of Week 1 until the clock hits 0:00 in Super Bowl XLVI, I expect Woodley to be the dominant player we all know he can be.

    If he does this, no longer will he be, according to Mike Tomlin, "James Harrison's sidekick."

    Plus the Steelers are paying him a whopping $10 million this year ,as their franchise player. So it would be nice if he lived up to it.


    Projected 2011 Stats

    80 tackles, 14 sacks, 3 FF, 2 INTs, 1 TD

1. Ziggy Hood

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    Halfway through the 2010 season, many fans were beginning to label Ziggy Hood as a bust. Hood showed great promise during training camp but had yet to show it on the field.

    Then in Week 7, Aaron Smith went down due to a season-ending torn bicep. We all know what happened next.

    Ziggy started the remaining nine games and played at a high enough level that Smith's absence was barely noticed.

    Under Hood, the Steelers still remained No. 1 in rush defense. That's not something that can be said for the previous times Smith went down due to injury.

    The Steelers even managed to squeeze three sacks out of him, a rarity for a Steelers' lineman. Not to mention the fact that Hood never faltered in the postseason, posting another two sacks, including one in the Super Bowl.

    With that being said, I believe Ziggy Hood will put together a complete 2011 season and be the most improved Pittsburgh Steeler.


    Projected 2011 Stats

    30 Tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 FF


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