Chris had his (long-winded) say, it’s my turn.
Antonio Brown vs Mike Wallace – Given the offseason, the 2012 Steelers roster will most likely include all three members of Young Money. AB and Wallace are no-doubt the most proven of the three, and their 2012 success or failures will be at the top of the Offensive report card. Wallace has been a fleeting superstar for two seasons, and showed he may be worth reaching deep in your pocket for. However, last season his 8 touchdown 1,000 + yard performance was overshadowed by a late-season slip in production. While he’s sitting on top of a $2.7M tender, his eagerness to get Larry Fitzgerald money before proving his long term value has all but signed him up for another year in Black and Gold. Antonio Brown showed he can step up when needed, and proved his durability by being thrown to only 3 times less than Fitzgerald Jr. Though he only crossed the endzone twice, he showed signs of being the go-to-guy for Ben. If Wallace proves his value with a 3rd superstar season, there could be owners opening their checkbook next year. Because I don’t think that owner will be Deuce Rooney, I look forward to draining out another season of Flash Speed from MW and putting my money on the equally capable and seemingly more consistent Antonio.
James Harrison vs LaMarr Woodley – Silverback and Woodley could shake the ground if they faced off against each other in a chess game. The Linebacker tandem has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses more than any other pairing in recent NFL history. 2011 gave us a wide angle at their individual abilities rather than as a tandem, with Harrison and Woodley finding it hard to take the field on the same Sunday as his pass rushing compatriot. Both put up impressive pass-rushing seasons with 9 sacks, but Silverback managed to tackle 22 more men than Woodley, despite playing in only one more game during the campaign. One thing that sets these two apart for me is Harrison’s ferocity and availability on every play. He jumped out of the ESPN highlight reels late in the season, but still managed to compile an impressive record having only played 11 games. If he can come out healthy in 2012 alongside a hopeful healthy Woodley, I’m picking the man with the iron orbital bone to lead the 2012 defense to success.
WINNER: Ironface James Harrison
THE NEW GUYS BRACKET
Baron Batch vs John Clay – Who? It wouldn’t surprise me if a handful of readers have little more knowledge of these two than they do their fifth cousin. Batch was sidelined with an ACL tear before his first NFL campaign got off its feet, and John Clay did little more than squeeze into the gameday roster when CB hopeful Curtis Brown was sent to the IR. He punched a 10-Yard TD on his first NFL run against St. Louis, and went on to touch the ball a few more times to close out the year. Baron Batch spent his 2011 writing wordy excerpts and giving convincing insight into his distinguished character on his excellent blog. If he slips out of the NFL, that man could make a living putting together awesome playlists. He showed great promise in the pre-season, and between the two, I’m hedging my bets on Batch being the future of the elusive running game. He had a great career at Texas Tech, and god knows we need to fill the hole left by a man named Jerome.
WINNER: Baron Batch
Ziggy Hood vs Cam Heyward – James Farrior is arguably the biggest loss on the defensive side of the ball this year, but following in his wake was DE Aaron Smith. Smith was the glue that forged Lebeau’s legendary defense in its infancy. Filling that gap will take leadership, performance, and the general bad-assery Smith carried out on the field with him. OSU native Cam Heyward played 16 games in his rookie year, but is still trying to prove his starting worth. Three year vet Evander Ziggidy-Diggity Hood convinced coaches to start him 7 times, and registered time on the clock for all 16 games as well. Heyward is regarded as the second coming of Iron-Head Heyward, and he needs to start proving it after being overshadowed by Hood last season. Hood registered almost 50 tackles last year. Get with the program, Cam – I don’t care if you’re a rookie or not. With the veterans we lost this year, the defense needs a DE with balls. Both are capable of performing, but so far Hood has showed more promise in carrying the load shouldered by Smith.
WINNER: Ziggy Hood