Tommy Jaggi’s Pittsburgh Steelers all-time 53-man roster
With offseason workouts over and still more than a month away from training camp, I felt it was time to dive deep into a topic that will undoubtedly be full of controversy: assembling an all-time Steelers 53-man roster.
Now, keep in mind that this is a 53-man roster, not necessarily the best 53 players to play for Pittsburgh. I needed to make sure there was a 2nd and 3rd string for positions that needed it. Because the Steelers have played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense throughout their history, I also decided to group certain positions together (like outside linebackers/edge defenders, for example).
Keep in mind that creating a 53-man roster like this is subject to a lot of opinions and we all have our biases. For me, I grew up in the 90’s, so I may be more partial to players that have played in the modern NFL era. However, the differences in opinion are what makes these types of articles fun.
Here is my all-time Steelers 53-man roster:
|Position||Starter||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Ben Roethlisberger||Terry Bradshaw|
|RB||Le’Veon Bell||Franco Harris||Willie Parker|
|WR1||Antonio Brown||John Stallworth||Santonio Holmes|
|WR2||Lynn Swann||Martavis Bryant||Louis Lipps|
|TE||Heath Miller||Bennie Cunningham|
|LT||Kelvin Beachum||Max Starks|
|LG||Alan Faneca||Ramon Foster|
|C||Maurkice Pouncey||Dermontti Dawson||Mike Webster|
|RT||Marcus Gilbert||John Kolb|
|DT/DE||Joe Greene||Brett Keisel|
|DT/DE||Aaron Smith||Cameron Heyward|
|ROLB/EDGE||James Harrison||Jason Gildon||Joey Porter|
|LOLB/EDGE||Kevin Greene||L.C. Greenwood||Greg Llyod|
|MLB1||Jack Lambert||James Farrior||Levon Kirkland|
|MLB2||Jack Ham||Lawrence Timmons||Ryan Shazier|
|LCB||Mel Blount||Ike Taylor|
|RCB||Rod Woodson||J.T. Thomas|
|FS||Carnell Lake||Mike Wagner|
|SS||Troy Polamalu||Donnie Shell|
|KR/PR||Antwaan Randle El|
Though the Steelers are known for always keeping three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, There wasn’t a third signal caller good enough in my opinion to take up a valuable roster spot. Though some older fans would argue Bradshaw should be the starter here, Big Ben gets the nod to lead one of the greatest franchises in the history of the NFL.
I get a little edgy here by listing Le’Veon Bell as the starter over Hall of Famers, Franco Harris, and Jerome Bettis, but I do believe Bell is the best running back Pittsburgh has seen. The Steelers didn’t have a fullback worthy of this roster, so I decided to cheat a little and put “The Bus” in this hybrid RB/FB role. This gave me room to throw “Fast” Willie Parker in my final RB roster spot.
Before you start sending me hate mail on Twitter, hear me out on this. The first string nobody should have a problem with, but I know I will take some flack for putting Martavis Bryant on this list (a player who has only accumulated just 21 career NFL games). I’m higher on Bryant than most, but the stats don’t lie. The Steelers are 4.4 points per game better since he entered the league when he is in the lineup. He’s also the greatest physical specimen the Steelers have ever had at the position. Sorry Yancey Thigpen fans, but this list is just a little too deep.
This is a pretty short list and one that was relatively easy to come up with. Heath is the obvious candidate as the starting tight end on this offense, while Cunningham is a solid number two. Eric Green was a viable candidate for this list, but he played half of his career elsewhere – including the division-rival Baltimore Ravens.
I don’t want to offend any of the older Yinzers out there, but I can’t image 260-pound offensive lineman holding a candle to the 300 plus pound freaks in the modern era. I strongly believe the Steelers current offensive line is the best in league history, though Alan Faneca may be the best lineman the Steelers have seen. Dermontti Dawson was a great player as well with starter consideration. I did, however, show some love to a pair of early era players in Mike Webster and John Kolb.
I decided to break defensive players into broad categories because of the different schemes the Steelers have played. Casey Hampton was a mammoth at nose tackle, while “Mean” Joe Greene and Aaron Smith are the starters at 3-4 end in my hybrid defense. Two more modern-era players fill the position in Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward.
This was the hardest position for me to figure out because there have been so many great outside linebackers/edge players in Steelers history. Though you could make a case for any of these guys to start, I decided to go with James Harrison and Kevin Greene. If I were coaching this team, you better believe I would rotate my edge players frequently.
Though they both played in a 4-3 defense, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham are my starters in the middle. This is another position the Steelers have had a ton of success in. The mid-2000’s pairing of Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior round out the second unit with Kirkland backing up. I had to sneak Shazier on this list – who I believe still has a chance to be one of the most dynamic linebackers in Steelers history.
With the exception of a few fantastic players, the Steelers have been historically bad at drafting cornerbacks. If Mel Blount and Rod Woodson could play together, it might be the best CB tandem the league has ever seen. Ike Taylor and J.T. Thomas round out the position, that is relatively thin in terms of depth.
Here’s a position to get excited about. Troy Polamalu and Carnell Lake get the start with Wagner and Shell coming in off the bench. I feel bad for any quarterback that has to play against this unit (speaking hypothetically, of course).
Don’t hate me, but it was hard to justify putting an old-time kicker like Gary Anderson on this list when Boswell has been so great these few years. His 87.7% kick accuracy blows Anderson 78.2% out of the water. Jeff Reed was certainly a candidate, but even his 81.9% accuracy doesn’t measure up. Bobby Walden was a solid punter for the Steelers for 10 years, while Randle El (the former college quarterback) might be the best overall kick/punt return man Pittsburgh has seen with five return touchdowns in five years with the Steelers.
It was hard to narrow this list down to just 53 Steelers. So many players have contributed in major fashion to help the Steelers become the most successful franchise in NFL history.
As a writer in my 20’s, please extend mercy on me if I didn’t show the love some of these older era players deserve.
I would love to hear your thought/opinions and for you to share what you think in the comments or on Twitter at @TommyJaggi.