When most people think of Pittsburgh Steelers' football they think of a hard-nosed, punch you in the mouth attack, and that has been the case in nearly the entire history of the team. The six-time Super Bowl-winning organization has relied on intimidation and fortitude that perfectly embodies the demeanor of the Steel City.
However, for championship-level success, even the toughest and most rugged teams need to balance that out with speed, agility, and most important: skill. Pittsburgh has played host to some of the greatest skill position players in the history of the game that deserve just as much recognition.
For that reason, I have compiled a three-deep list of each of the greatest skill position players in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history. Each list includes the best of the best from the storied franchise at positions such as quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end.
The scale for these rankings was simple: only the player's time as a member of the Steelers was evaluated, with individual accolades, team success, overall impact, and longevity being the greatest weighing factors in said order.
In this part of the series I take a look at the running backs.
Throughout his 12-year career in Pittsburgh, Franco Harris fit in perfectly with the Steelers’ rough and tumble ways of the 70’s and 80’s. After being drafted 13th overall in the 1972 NFL Draft out of Penn State, Harris went on to rush for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns in his rookie season, earning him the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The 6-2 230lb bell cow was a major contributor, rushing for over 1,000 yards in eight of his campaigns. Alongside his four Super Bowl titles, Harris was also a nine-time Pro-Bowler, one-time All-Pro, and was awarded Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 1976. His career rushing numbers are certainly symbolic of all that praise. Harris ran for 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns in his career, while also adding 2,287 receiving yards. Because of his gaudy resume of work, Franco Harris was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
Although Jerome Bettis’s career began with back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons and was the 1993 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Rams, he became a Pittsburgh Steelers legend for his 10 years of punishing defenses from the running back position. After a move from Los Angeles to St. Louis with the Rams, Bettis had his worst season, rushing for just 637 yards and three touchdowns. He responded in 1996, winning the PFWA Comeback Player of the Year award as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, putting up 1,431 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, his first double-digit touchdown campaign. With the Steelers, Bettis made four Pro-Bowl appearances and was voted to the All-Pro team once. In all, “The Bus” rushed for 10,571 yards and notched 94 total touchdowns. Bettis ended his career with a bang, winning his first and only Super Bowl in 2005. Jerome Bettis would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
3. Le'Veon Bell
Playing just five seasons with the Steelers, Bell had a much shorter stint with the team than the previous two backs on the list. However, his time in Pittsburgh was fruitful as he was a three-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Known for picking out running lanes while almost stopping at the line of scrimmage, Bell’s vision proved effective as he averaged over 1,000 rushing yards per season. Bell was also a threat to defenses with his pass-catching abilities, hauling in 312 receptions for 2,660 yards and seven touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell had his best season with the Steelers in 2016 rushing for 105.7 yards per game, becoming just the second player in franchise history to surpass 100 ypg rushing in a season (Jerome Bettis, 1997). In his five years with the team, Bell surmounted 7,996 scrimmage yards for the Steelers while also scoring 42 total touchdowns.