The Greatest Steelers Players
The Steelers have fielded some of the most legendary football players in the history of the NFL. Some are Hall of Famers who are remembered today as icons of the game. They smashed records, won Super Bowls, and earned the eternal adoration of Steeler Nation. Few NFL cities are as devoted to their heroes as Pittsburgh.
But, after years of proudly wearing the black and gold, our beloved superstars inevitably retire. These are bittersweet moments for Steelers fans. We cherish the memories of our favorite players, and we are grateful that they played in Pittsburgh, but we hate seeing them go. It is even worse when star players leave and sign with other teams while still in their prime. That really hurts.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the great players could stick around forever, in the prime of their careers? They'd never retire, and they'd never leave for a better contract. That kind of talk is fuel for daydreams.
What would it be like to see Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis in the same backfield? Or to see Hines Ward catching passes from Terry Bradshaw? If Jack Lambert and James Harrison were on the same defense, would the opposing quarterback even have the courage to come out of the locker room?
Those are the thoughts that led to this article. This is the ultimate all-time Steelers team, with players chosen from every era of Steelers football. To make this list, I considered a player’s years and stats with the Steelers as well as contributions to championship teams.
However, I set a few rules which determined my choices.
How I Chose My Ultimate All-Time Steelers Team
- I’m dressing 46 players, as allowed per current NFL rules. In this case, this means a starter and backup at each position, plus a kicker and punter.
- We’re playing old-school, power Steelers football. Our base offense consists of two backs, two wide receivers, and a tight end.
- We’re playing a base 4–3 defense with the personnel for a 3–4 when necessary.
- Every player is in his prime.
- I evaluated each player based on his performance and value in the era he played and did my best to avoid comparisons with modern players.
Consider the depth chart below as a very loose lineup. Later in this article, I’ll talk about how I’d use each of these players in specific situations. They all have their strong points. Then again, with 46 names like those below, it is hard to go wrong.
Steelers All-Time Offense Depth Chart
Steelers All-Time Defense Depth Chart
Steelers All-Time Special Teams
Steelers All-Franchise Quarterbacks
Bradshaw gets the starting quarterback spot. He is a proven winner who played his best in the biggest games and led the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships. He is widely considered the greatest Steelers quarterback of all time and one of the finest in NFL history. During his 14-year career, Bradshaw made three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. He was named NFL MVP in 1978 and earned the Bert Bell Award for NFL Player of the Year that same season. Bradshaw was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the class of 1989.
Going into the 2020 season, Big Ben had thrown for 56,545 yards and 363 touchdowns in his career, making him the leading passer in Steelers history. He earned the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and, in his sixteen seasons as a Steeler, he made six Pro Bowls. He led the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances and won two of them. Roethlisberger owns many of the Steelers all-time passing records, including most touchdown passes in a season (34), most yards in a game (522) and longest touchdown pass (97 yards). He’ll serve as a very capable backup and will step in for Bradshaw for a few series every game.
Quarterback Honorable Mention
If I am going to dress a third quarterback, I’m going with O’Donnell. He was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in Steelers history and had an impressive-for-his-era passer rating of 81.8 as a Steeler. He led the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX in 1995, though they lost to the Cowboys.
Steelers All-Franchise Running Backs
Harris is the Steelers' all-time leading rusher who ran for 11,950 yards and 91 touchdowns during his 12 seasons in Pittsburgh. He was a big back at 6’2” and 230 pounds, and he fit the Steelers' power-running game perfectly. Harris earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1972 and made the Pro Bowl every year from '72 to '80. He was one of the driving forces behind the Steelers Super Bowl championships of the 1970s. Harris was named to the All-Pro team once and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the class of '90.
Franco Harris was a big back, but Jerome Bettis was even bigger at over 250 pounds. Nicknamed "The Bus," Bettis ranks second in yardage and third in touchdowns in Steelers history with 10,571 yards and 80 scores. He helped win Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit and was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the class of 2015.
Bell left his mark on the Steelers franchise as much with his off-field drama as with his on-field greatness. Suspensions and his refusal to play under the franchise tag eventually led to his dismissal and subsequent signing with the Jets. A knee injury in 2015 sidelined him for part of the season, but there is no denying that when he had his act together, he was one of the best the NFL had ever seen—as both a rusher and receiver. He made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. On our team, he’ll serve as a great third-down back.
Willie Parker was perhaps the fastest running back ever to wear the black and gold. Paired with Bettis during the 2005 season, he racked up 1,200 yards and helped the Steelers roll to a Super Bowl championship. The next season (2006), he ran for 1,494 yards and 13 touchdowns while making the first of his two career Pro Bowls. Parker retired as the third all-time leading rusher in Steelers history, behind only Bettis and Harris.
Running Back Honorable Mention
I would love to add a blocking fullback to the roster, but why not one with some other skills besides being a great blocker? Merril Hoge was a versatile back who blocked hard, ran with the ball well when called upon and caught passes out of the backfield. He led the Steelers in rushing in 1988, '90 and '91. During his seven-year career in Pittsburgh, he rushed for 3,115 yards and 21 touchdowns, plus he caught 241 passes for 2,054 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Steelers All-Franchise Wide Receivers
Ward is the number one receiver in Steelers history for receptions, yards and touchdowns. That’s one reason he was the greatest Steelers receiver of all time. Another was his blocking. Ward was fearless whether catching a pass over the middle, or throwing a shoulder into a linebacker who outweighed him by 50 pounds. Ward caught 1,000 passes for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns in his career while making four Pro Bowls. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion who earned the MVP award for his performance in Super Bowl XL.
In his prime, Brown was one of the most dangerous receivers in NFL history. He put up ridiculous numbers and, had he not driven himself out of the league, he would have challenged every historic receiving mark. During his nine years in Pittsburgh, he caught 837 passes for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns. He made seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams, and he owns many all-time Steelers receiving records, including most receptions in a season (136), most receptions in a game (17) and most receiving yards in a game (284).
Few wide receivers in NFL history have made as many seemingly impossible catches as Lynn Swann. He was one of Terry Bradshaw's most trusted targets during the Steelers' Super Bowl heyday of the 1970s, and he caught 336 passes for 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns in his career. He earned MVP honors in Super Bowl X after catching four balls for 161 yards and a touchdown. During his nine-year career, he made three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. Lynn Swann was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2001.
It’s impossible to talk about Lynn Swann without mentioning John Stallworth. He was Swann’s counterpart on the opposite side of the football field and another wide receiver with the ability to make incredible catches. The pair came into the league with the same draft class and tormented defensive backs from 1974 to '81. When Swann retired in 1981, Stallworth kept going. He eventually retired in 1987 as the number-one receiver in Steelers history (at that time) with 537 catches for 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns. Stallworth made three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team in his career and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1984.
Wide Receiver Honorable Mention
Lipps is the fifth leading receiver in Steelers history, so with all due respect to players like Buddy Dial, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes, he would be my fifth wideout. Lipps played during a tough period when the Super Bowl greats of the 1970s had almost all retired and the Steelers struggled to find a new identity. He still managed to haul in 358 passes for 6,018 yards and 39 touchdowns and make two Pro Bowls in his time as a Steeler.
Steelers All-Franchise Tight Ends
For 11 seasons, Heath Miller served as a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger. He wasn’t flashy compared to some of the other tight ends of his era, but he was a smart player who blocked hard and ran good routes. By the time he ended his career, he had quietly become the third all-time leading receiver in Steelers history for total receptions. Miller made two Pro Bowls in his career and helped Pittsburgh win two Super Bowl championships. He caught 592 passes for 6,569 yards and 45 touchdowns as a Steeler.
Would you be surprised to hear that a guy named Elbie Nickel is the seventh all-time leading receiver in Steelers history, ahead of names like Plaxico Burress, Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes? I wouldn’t. That’s why he’s the second tight end on my all-time Steelers team. We’ll ignore the fact that Nickel was 6’1” and under 200 pounds—more similar to the size of a modern wide receiver. It was a different era, and Nickel was one of the best ends of his day. He made three Pro Bowls in his 11-year career while catching 329 passes for 5,131 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Tight End Honorable Mention
If I am going to carry a third tight end, it will be this guy. Green was a monster at 6’5” and 280 pounds. Announcers often reported that he weighed closer to 300. He was way faster than he should have been, and he presented major problems for defensive backs whom he often outweighed by 100 pounds. Green made two Pro Bowls as a Steeler while hauling in 198 passes for 2,681 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Steelers All-Franchise Offensive Tackles
The Steelers have fielded some great guards and centers in their history, but offensive tackle is a position for which they have no Hall of Famers. Still, there are a few who have stood out over the years. Marvel Smith is one of them. As starting left tackle, he protected Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside and helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls. He made the Pro Bowl once in his nine-year career.
Tunch Ilkin was drafted the year the Steelers defeated the Rams in Super Bowl XIV. He became a full-time starter in 1983, and for the next 10 seasons, he anchored the Steelers' offensive line at right tackle. Ilkin made the Pro Bowl in 1988 and '89 despite playing on Steelers teams that struggled during the latter part of the ‘80s. He left the Steelers in 1993 after playing in 176 games.
Kolb was part of coach Chuck Noll’s first-ever draft in 1969, the same draft that brought Joe Greene to the Steelers. Kolb was one of the key players that helped change the Steelers franchise from perennial losers to four-time Super Bowl champions in the 1970s. Kolb started 138 regular-season games and four Super Bowls at left tackle.
Larry Brown started his NFL career as a tight end. In fact, he caught a touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw in Super Bowl IX. Brown moved to right tackle in 1977, where he spent the rest of his career and started in two Super Bowls. He made the Pro Bowl in 1982.
Steelers All-Franchise Guards
During his 10 years as a Steeler, Alan Faneca was one of the best guards in the NFL. He started 153 out of 158 games, made seven Pro Bowls, six All-Pro teams and helped win Super Bowl XL. He left Pittsburgh after the 2007 season, played three more seasons for the Jets and Cardinals, and made two more Pro Bowls.
DeCastro is one of a few current Steelers on this all-time team, and he deserves his place on this roster. In eight seasons he has made five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. He still has a lot of his career ahead of him, and there is a good chance he will be enshrined in Canton one day.
Davis started 114 games at left guard in his career and helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls. He was part of one of the best NFL offensive lines in NFL history, and a big reason Franco Harris was able to dominate on the ground.
Mullins was another key member of the Steelers' offensive line in the 1970s. He played in 124 games and started in four Super Bowls. He was undersized, at around 245 pounds, but like the rest of the Steelers offensive linemen of his era, he made up for it with strength and speed.
Steelers All-Franchise Centers
“Iron Mike" Webster is regarded by many football historians as the greatest center ever to play in the NFL. He was certainly one of the toughest. Over his 15-year career with the Steelers, he played in 220 games, made nine Pro Bowls and was selected to five All-Pro teams. His legendary strength and work ethic in the weight room set the standard not only for the rest of the Steelers team but also for players across the NFL. He was a major reason the Steelers won four Super Bowls, and he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1997.
When Mike Webster signed with Kansas City after the 1988 season, he left some big cleats to fill back in Pittsburgh. Dermontti Dawson stepped in and proved he was up to the challenge. Over 13 seasons, he made seven Pro bowls and six All-Pro teams. Like Webster, he was regarded as the finest center in the league during his era. Dawson and the Steelers went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Cowboys in 1995. In 2012 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Offensive Line Honorable Mention
Here is another great center. If Pouncey stays on track, he is another future Hall of Famer. If not for Webster and Dawson, he certainly would have made my main roster. He’s made eight Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams in his time as a Steeler so far.
Steelers All-Franchise Defensive Ends
In my opinion, L.C. Greenwood should be among the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So far, he has yet to be enshrined. He came to the Steelers in the 1969 Draft, the first year with then-new head coach Chuck Noll and defensive tackle Joe Greene. Greenwood lined up alongside Greene and tormented quarterbacks for the next 13 seasons as part of the Steel Curtain defense. He won four Super Bowls, made All-Pro twice and was voted to six Pro Bowls.
Dwight White played opposite L.C. Greenwood for his entire career, and the duo were a formidable pass-rushing team. White earned four Super Bowl rings as a Steeler while making the Pro Bowl twice. He was credited with the first safety in Super Bowl history when he downed Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton after Tarkenton had fallen on a fumble in his end zone.
Heyward is the perfect defensive end for the Steelers current 3–4 scheme, with the power to take on offensive linemen and the speed and tenacity to rush the passer. He still has a ways to go in his career, but so far, he looks like an all-time great. He’s made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams so far, and he already ranks seventh for sacks in franchise history.
When you think of all the great pass rushers the Steelers have had over the years, the name Keith Willis may not immediately come to mind. However, in the time since the NFL started keeping track of sacks in 1982, only five Steelers have brought the quarterback down more times than Willis. He played during a time when the Steelers struggled, but he was an intimidating defender who played hard and got the job done.
Steelers All-Franchise Defensive Tackles
“Mean” Joe Greene is the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers player of all time. He was there at the beginning of the great Super Bowl dynasty of the 1970s, and through example became the leader of one of the most impenetrable defenses ever to step on a football field. He was one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history and made more Pro Bowls in his career than any other Steeler (10) along with four All-Pro teams. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969 and Defensive Player of the Year in both '72 and '74. He retired as a four-time Super Bowl champion and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
He weighed in around 230, an undersized defensive tackle even for his time, but Ernie Stautner was one of the toughest Steelers ever to wear the black and gold. The Steelers struggled during his 14 seasons with the team, but Stautner still managed to make nine Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. His No. 70 jersey was the first-ever retired by the Steelers, one of two in team history. Stautner was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the class of 1969.
Hampton was the prototypical 3–4 nose tackle with the strength and size to claim his space in the center of the line and never give an inch. He started 164 games in his career and helped the Steelers with two Super Bowls and three AFC championships. In 12 seasons, he made the Pro Bowl five times.
It made sense for NFL offenses to run away from Joe Greene back in the 1970s, but that meant running straight into Ernie Holmes. Holmes was a tremendous pass rusher and a part of the original Steel Curtain defense. Holmes played in a total of 81 games as a Steeler and earned two Super Bowl rings.
Defensive Line Honorable Mentions
Defensive end Aaron Smith only made the Pro Bowl once in his 13 seasons as a Steeler, but he was a key player in a defense that took the team to three Super Bowls. He started in 152 games and piled up a total of 44 sacks. Smith retired in 2011 with a pair of Super Bowl rings.
Steelers All-Franchise Outside Linebackers
Jack Ham is on any shortlist of greatest outside linebackers in NFL history. He was versatile, athletic and tough—able to handle any assignment asked of him. He was an intelligent ball hawk who intercepted 32 passes and recovered 21 fumbles in his career. During his 12 seasons with the Steelers, he made eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams while playing a valuable part on four Super Bowl teams. Ham was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the class of 1988.
No Steeler in franchise history has been a bigger nightmare for offensive tackles and quarterbacks than James Harrison. In 14 seasons in Pittsburgh, he racked up 80.5 sacks, the franchise record. He was voted to the Pro Bowl five times, made two All-Pro teams and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Harrison earned two Super Bowl rings and holds the record for the longest interception return in Super Bowl history (100 yards in Super Bowl XLIII).
Greg Lloyd was the kind of player who made your proud to be a Steelers fan. He appeared to have been cut from the same metal that had been used to craft Joe Greene, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount—although he came to Pittsburgh in 1988, more than a decade after those legendary players. Lloyd was one of the bright spots on a struggling Steelers team in the late 1980s and a big reason the team was able to return to the Super Bowl in 1995. Lloyd tallied 53.5 sacks during his time in Pittsburgh while making five straight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.
Andy Russell was a rookie in the early 1960s, a time when the Steelers were the basement dwellers of the NFL. They had a few good seasons here and there, but decades of losing had taken a toll on the franchise's culture. That changed when new head coach Chuck Noll arrived in 1969 and teamed with general manager Dan Rooney to draft some of the legendary Steelers we know today. But Russell’s spot at outside linebacker was something they never had to worry about. Andy Russell stuck around to help the Steelers win a pair of Super Bowls before retiring. He made seven Pro Bowls in his time as a Steeler.
He was listed at 6’4” tall and 220 pounds, but by some accounts, he may have weighed much closer to 200 pounds. Jack Lambert likely cared little about the number on the scale, and certainly, none of his opponents found his lack of body mass reassuring. He played with the fury of 10 men twice his size, and for 11 seasons, he was the terrifying entity lurking at the heart of the Steelers' defense. He made the Pro Bowl every year of his career except the first and last, was voted to six All-Pro teams, earned Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974 and Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls. Jack Lambert was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Kirkland was a bruiser at 6’1” tall and 270 pounds and fast for his size. Big number 99 presented a major problem for any Steelers opponent trying to run the ball between the tackles. He made two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team during his nine seasons in Pittsburgh. Kirkland totaled 11 interceptions and 18.5 sacks as a Steeler. He and fellow linebackers Chad Brown, Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene were a big reason Pittsburgh was able to reach the Super Bowl in 1995.
Linebacker Honorable Mentions
Thus far, I have been sticking with one honorable mention per position, but that’s just not possible at linebacker. The Steelers have had so many great ones, and it was tough whittling the list down for this all-time roster. Here are others worth mentioning.
Green is one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history and would have been a sure starter on this all-time Steelers team had he not left Pittsburgh for Carolina in 1996. It didn’t feel right snubbing Lloyd or Russell—two players who spent the majority of their careers in Pittsburgh—for a guy who made a pit stop in the Steel City. Still, Greene was a great one, and a big reason the Steelers went to the Super Bowl in 1995.
Gildon is ranked second in Steelers franchise history with 77 career sacks. He made three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team in his time as a Steeler.
Porter is fifth all-time in career sacks for the Steelers with 60. He made three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team in eight seasons as a Steeler.
Mike Merriweather was one of the players in the early-1980s who gave Steeler Nation hope that the Super Bowl dynasty of the '70s could continue with a new cast of young players. Of course, that never happened, but Merriweather was nonetheless a great one. He made three straight Pro Bowls with the Steelers.
Steelers All-Franchise Safeties
Strong safety Troy Polamalu haunted offenses for 12 seasons while making eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams. He was a fearless competitor with a near-reckless playing style that kept quarterbacks guessing right up to the snap of the ball. He recorded 32 interceptions and 12 sacks in his 158-game career and scored a total of five defensive touchdowns. Troy Polamalu was a key part of a ferocious Steeler defense that won two Super Bowls and three AFC championships. Polamalu is part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2020.
Donnie Shell is another player who was high on the list of Steelers Hall of Fame snubs. He finally got his due in 2020, when he was part of an extended class of inductees. In his 14-year career, he made five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams while appearing in over 200 games and intercepting 51 passes. Shell was a part of four Super Bowl winning teams and an important player in the last two Super Bowls of the 1970s.
Mike Wagner’s hard-hitting playing style was a perfect fit for the Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s. He made two Pro Bowls in his 10-year career while helping the Steelers win four Super Bowls. He started in 116 games and intercepted 36 passes.
Carnell Lake was a Pro-Bowl safety with the Steelers in 1995 when all-world cornerback Rod Woodson went down with a knee injury. Coach Bill Cowher asked Lake to make a sacrifice for the team and step in for Woodson at cornerback. Lake not only accepted the challenge like a true team leader, but he managed to make the Pro Bowl and lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl in the process. Lake made a total of four Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team during his time as a Steeler, and his team-first performance during the 1995 season is just one example of what he meant to Pittsburgh during his career.
Steelers All-Franchise Cornerbacks
Rod Woodson played the first 10 years of his 17-year Hall-of-Fame career with the Steelers. During that time, he made seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams and was voted NFL Defensive Player of the year in 1993. In addition to his stellar skills as a defensive back, Woodson was also one of the fastest men in the NFL and an outstanding kick and punt returner. During his decade in Pittsburgh, he returned two kicks, two punts and five interceptions for touchdowns. Woodson went on to play for several other teams, including the Ravens, one of the Steelers' biggest rivals.
Like the rest of the Steel Curtain era Steelers defense, Mel Blount was tough and aggressive. As a big cornerback, he intimidated receivers with his physical play, so much so that the NFL eventually had to change the rules and limit the amount of contact defensive backs can have with receivers downfield. Blount won four Super Bowl rings, earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1975 and was voted to five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams in his 14-year career. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1989.
The Steelers have had some great cornerbacks in their storied history. Before Mel Blount and Rod Woodson, there was Jack Butler. He played at a time when there were no Super Bowls or championship seasons for the Steelers, but he excelled at his position. During Butler’s nine-year career, he made four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams while intercepting 52 passes. The NFL finally acknowledged his contributions to the game in 2012 when he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
J.T. Thomas started for the Steelers in two Super Bowls at cornerback and then moved to safety for the latter half of his career. He made a Pro Bowl in 1976 and earned three Super Bowl rings as a Steeler. During an eight-year career in Pittsburgh, he intercepted 19 passes.
Defensive Back Honorable Mention
If I can add a fifth cornerback, I’m picking Ike Taylor, though my reasoning may be a little nebulous. Taylor probably dropped more passes than he intercepted in his career and he never made a Pro Bowl. However, he held down the cornerback position for 10 seasons as a starter and always seemed to make a big play at a key time. Taylor was part of a defense that helped bring two Lombardi Trophies to the Steel City. I think he was more valuable than NFL history may indicate.
Steelers All-Franchise Kicker
Anderson had an astonishing 23-year NFL career and spent the first 13 seasons with the Steelers. By the time he left Pittsburgh, he was (and remains) the franchise's all-time leading scorer. Anderson made three Pro Bowls as a Steeler. He kicked 309 field goals and 416 extra points, giving him his team record of 1,343 points scored. Anderson went on to play for Minnesota, Philadelphia, Tennessee and San Francisco. He finally retired from the NFL after the 2004 season, with 2,434 total points scored in his career.
The Steelers haven’t had a lot of luck with punters in recent years. In fact, only one Steelers punter has ever made a Pro Bowl, and that was Bobby Walden in 1969. The Steelers were 1–13 that year, and Walden punted 77 times—second-most in the league. Walden earned Super Bowl rings with the Steelers in 1974 and '75 before retiring after the '77 season. His career average per punt is 41.6, but he had some years in his prime where he averaged more than 45 yards-per-punt.
Woodson wasn’t just one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL during his time in the league. He was also one of the best return men. He returned two punts and two kicks for touchdowns as a Steeler. Between Woodson and Antonio Brown, this all-Steelers squad has a couple of versatile return specialists. I’d have no trouble putting either of them back to return kicks, though Woodson would be my first choice as kick returner.
You might think Rod Woodson or Antonio Brown would be a better choice as a punt returner. They were great ones for sure, but Lynn Swann was even better. Swann only returned punts full-time as a rookie and then sporadically throughout his career. He averaged 14.1 yards per return his rookie season and 12.1 for his career.
Special Teams Honorable Mentions
Antwaan Randle El
This all-Steelers team is fortunate to have a few great kick and punt returners on the roster at other positions. However, if I had the luxury of choosing a pure return man, I’m going with Antwaan Randle El. He returned four punts and one kick for touchdowns during his career with the Steelers. He’d be an asset as a receiver as well. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in 2005 then departed for Washington the following year only to return for another Super Bowl run in 2010.
Coaching the Greatest Steelers Team of All Time
Now that the roster is together, what do we do with these guys? I can't speak for Noll, or Cowher or Tomlin, but here are a few of the things I would be thinking about.
Choosing a Starting Quarterback
Both Bradshaw and Roethlisberger have what it takes to lead the team, and they both have big arms. I like Bradshaw as the starter because he always seemed to reach down for something extra in important games. I think he would have better command of the offense. Still, in hurry-up situations or just for a change of pace, I like Roethlisberger’s ability to control the offense at the line of scrimmage.
Managing the Running Backs
Each of the running backs on this roster played in a different style of offense, and that versatility will be a tremendous asset to the team. Harris ran out of a pro set, and I’d pair him with Bettis as a running mate. Let’s see a defensive front seven deal with that duo.
Bettis and Parker both ran out of an I-formation scheme as well as single-back sets. Though Harris was technically a fullback, I think I’d rather see him at tailback. Bettis played fullback in college at Notre Dame, so he seems like a better fit. I’d use Parker as a change of pace back when Harris needs a breather.
Bell usually ran out of a single-back set, often from the pistol or shotgun formation. He’s the best receiver of the group by a long shot, so he’ll be our third-down back. I also like him as a change of pace for a few series every game.
Making Sure All Four Receivers Get the Ball
This team has four great wide receivers. Even though Ward and Brown would start, Swann and Stallworth would see serious playing time. Really, you can mix and match them as starters, and you can’t go wrong. I think I’d use Brown in the slot on three-wide sets, but Swann would be a great choice there as well. Since Le’Veon Bell is on this roster, and he’s an excellent pass catcher, I didn’t feel the need to carry more than four wide receivers.
Starting the Best Linemen
On the offensive line, I feel like it would be a crime to let Webster or Dawson sit on the bench. I’ve tried to avoid changing player positions for this team, but moving offensive linemen around isn’t unheard of. Maybe I would start Webster at center, move Faneca to tackle and start Dawson at left guard. However it hashed out, I would want Webster, Faneca, Dawson and DeCastro on the field at the same time.
Personnel for 4–3 and 3–4 Schemes
On defense, the Steelers utilized a 4–3 scheme up until the early 1980s, then switched to a 3–4, which they continue to employ to this day. Slightly different personnel are required on the defensive line for each, but I think we have it covered here.
In a four-man front, my starters are Greenwood and White at defensive ends and Greene and Stautner at tackles. Hampton is the best choice at nose tackle in a three-man front, with Heyward at one defensive end. I have a couple of other ends to choose from; however, I think I like Joe Greene at defensive end in a 3–4 scheme.
The skills needed at outside linebacker differ slightly in a 3–4 versus a 4–3. This team has the personnel to run either scheme, with athletic, versatile outside linebackers in Ham and Russell, and fierce pass rushers in Lloyd and Harrison.
Taking Advantage of Talented Defensive Backs
I’m lucky to have two athletes on this roster that can play either safety or cornerback: Carnell Lake and J.T. Thomas. I’d use Butler as my nickelback, and add Lake in dime situations. All of these guys—maybe except for Butler—played on defenses where the front seven put tremendous pressure on the quarterback. That means a lot of man coverage, but this unit is certainly up to the task.
This team has three outstanding return men and one of the greatest kickers in NFL history. Not bad. But there are other positions to fill on special teams. I need a kick coverage unit, a kick return unit, a punt team and a punt return team. Since we have only superstars here, they are going to have to put their egos in their back pockets, step up and play special teams when called upon.
No doubt, it would be a challenge to coach a team packed with so many legendary players. With so many weapons at the skill positions and a limited number of footballs to go around, it will be hard to keep everyone happy. But that's what you call a good problem to have.
Of course, this team will never see the field, but it is fun to daydream. Who would you put on your ultimate Steelers roster?