A year ago James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.J. Watt were wrapping up their rookie seasons, resting and recovering after what is a long year for young players.
Fast forward to this week and the trio of second year players are in Orlando, Florida to play in their first Pro Bowl.
“I am excited about the opportunity,” said Conner. “I think it’s going to be fun. My family gets to enjoy it with me.
“Plus seeing all of the great talent around the league. My face will be up there with all of those guys. It’s a huge honor.”
Conner was selected to the Pro Bowl as the starting running back for the AFC, while Smith-Schuster and Watt were both named to the Pro Bowl as alternates because Antonio Brown and Jadeveon Clowney aren’t able to play because of injuries.
Conner finished the 2018 season with 215 carries for 973 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding 55 receptions for 497 yards and a touchdown, while starting 12 games and missing three with an ankle injury.
“He’s great,” said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “He’s a great player, he’s able to hit the holes the right way and take screens and catch the ball. Whatever it is, he’s a complete running back 100 percent.”
Smith-Schuster finished this season second in the AFC and tied for sixth in the NFL with 111 receptions for 1,426 yards, which was third in the AFC and fifth in the NFL. Smith-Schuster was fifth in the AFC and 12th in the NFL with 1,439 yards from scrimmage.
“He is a guy who has been really consistent,” said Watt. “In the NFL a lot of guys go out and have one good play or one good game. To be able to do it over the course of the season, over the course of his short career is awesome to see.”
Watt led the Steelers’ defense and tied for second among all NFL linebackers with 13 sacks in 2018. He was the only NFL player to finish the 2018 regular season with at least 65 total tackles (68), 10 sacks (13) and five defensive forced fumbles (6).
Watt has recorded 20 sacks over the last two seasons, the most ever by a Steelers in their first two seasons in the NFL – and the fourth-most among all NFL linebackers from 2017-18.
“When he is not making plays, that is because someone is keying in on him and somebody else is opening up an opportunity for that,” said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. “You have to pay attention to where he is, but that does not mean lose sight of everybody else.”
The three players will join teammates Cameron Heyward, Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey in Orlando for the Pro Bowl, which will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27.