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Robinson: Steelers' MVP Brown grades out as best player, too

| Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

So who deserved to be the Steelers' most valuable player?

Antonio Brown won the players-award vote for the second time in three seasons and, just as in 2011, he had to beat out Ben Roethlisberger to do so.

While the 2011 vote was surprising — Roethlisberger didn't have his best season statistically but appeared to be a huge favorite — this one wasn't. Roethlisberger is experiencing his best season statistically despite the Steelers' 7-8 record, but Brown is enjoying one of the best seasons by any wide receiver in the team's 81-season history.

Roethlisberger, for all he has accomplished in 10 seasons, has won the team MVP award only once — a seemingly glaring omission given everything he has done for a franchise he's taken to three Super Bowls.

There has been considerable discussion that Roethlisberger's inability to repeat as MVP illustrates his lack of popularity among his teammates. But it also could be argued that Brown's two MVP awards reflect his teammates' immense respect for a player whose work ethic and never-take-a-day-off-attitude were compared recently by coach Mike Tomlin to that of the relentless James Harrison.

“He has come in and worked. He's been the same guy every day,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Brown. “He never missed anything.”

There's also this to consider: Quarterback Terry Bradshaw is a Hall of Famer who won four Super Bowls, yet he was the Steelers' MVP only twice. He didn't win his first such award until his eighth season in the league, and he won only after the Steelers' offensive emphasis shifted from the run to the pass.

So, throwing out all opinion and focusing only on non-subjective player analysis, which Steelers' player had the best season?

Pro Football Focus analyzes every player on every play for its player grades, which are subscribed to by five NFL teams and numerous player agents. According to its grades, Brown is the highest-rated Steelers player on either side of the ball, with a grade of 20.7. He is third-ranked among all NFL wide receivers, trailing only Brandon Marshall (37.2) of Chicago and Calvin Johnson (22.5) of Detroit.

(For comparison' sake, the highest-rated player at any position is Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who has an astonishing 102.0 grade. The next best is Rams defensive end Robert Quinn at 71.1. The highest-rated offensive player is elite run blocker Evan Mathis, an Eagles guard who grades out at 42.9).

Among Steelers players, Roethlisberger is second at 13.8, followed by right guard David DeCastro at 11.0. Tied for fourth are wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and cornerback William Gay, both at 10.9.

And guess who's sixth? None other than LaMarr Woodley, who is 10th among all NFL outside linebackers with a 10.8 grade that is higher than the 9.7 grade of Jason Worilds, who has eight sacks.

So why does Woodley have a higher grade when it would appear Worilds has had by far the better season?

First, it's easy to forget that Woodley got off to a strong start, with five sacks in his first six games before he began fighting through injuries for the third consecutive season. Worilds received a positive grade in only one of his first nine games before earning one in each of his past six.

Oh, and the next two highest-rated Steelers players? Left guard Ramon Foster (10.4) and safety Troy Polamalu (10.0).

There's probably no argument there.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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