The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the class of the NFL for much of their existence. Since their inception in 1933, they have won six Super Bowl titles, eight conference championships, and 22 division titles. The Steelers have remained a hallmark of consistency and excellence to this day, perhaps due to the team’s unchanging ownership. The Rooney family has owned the team since its founding, and they have only hired three coaches since 1969, speaking to their committment to team philosophy and competition.
The team boasted the “Steel Curtain” of the 1970s with defensive stalwarts like “Mean” Joe Greene who carried them to four Super Bowl championships in that decade. We also cannot forget about offensive stars like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth.
The new millennium brought fresh stars like Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell.
It’s tough to narrow down just eight of the team’s greatest offensive players. It’s just as difficult to choose seven of the team’s worst offensive contributors. Yet, no team is perfect, and there have been a few disappointing players to pass through the annals of Steel City.
In some cases, a player spent a few years with the team, yet contributed on an otherworldly level. Other times, players struggled through short Steeler stints, only to find success elsewhere. Either way, the Steelers have enjoyed great success with many players.
Here are eight of the best offensive players in Steelers’ history, and seven of the worst.
15. Best: Barry Foster
Foster deserves a spot on this list despite his injury-shortened career. Despite playing just five seasons, Foster racked up some astounding totals. He was especially productive from 1990-1994 under Steelers coaches Chuck Noll and later, Bill Cowher.
Foster set a franchise single-season rushing record with 1,690 yards in 1992. He also amassed 12 100-yard games that year, which tied Eric Dickerson’s record. He was named to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1992 and 1993.
Foster ended his career after a brief comeback attempt with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1995. The injuries he had suffered through his short tenure in the NHL had taken an early toll, and Foster knew it.
He finished his career with 3,943 rush yards and 26 touchdowns. He could’ve truly been one of the great Steelers backs had he stayed healthy.
14. Worst: Cliff Stoudt
We’ve discussed some of the greatest Steelers quarterbacks in Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. Now, we turn to one of the worst. Cliff Stoudt began his career as Bradshaw’s backup in the late 70s and early 80s. One would think that learning from one of the NFL’s best QBs would have better prepared Stoudt for at least a solid run as a starter.
Unfortunately, things did not shake out that way. Stoudt got his first consistent snaps as a starter in 1983. He threw for a respectable 2,553 yards on 381 pass attempts. However, he completed just 50.1 percent of his passes, and his 12 touchdowns didn’t make up for his 21 interceptions.
Stoudt finished the 1983 season with a 60.6 percent QB rating, and he left the team at year’s end. In 30 games played (16 total starts) for Pittsburgh, he had a 9-7 record, 3,217 yards, 14 TDs and 28 INTs.
Stoudt spent a short stint in the USFL before a brief return to the NFL with the Phoenix (before they were Arizona) Cardinals and Miami Dolphins.
13. Best: John Henry Johnson
Johnson had already been in the NFL for six years by the time he arrived in Pittsburgh. He was traded to Steel City in 1960, and at 31 years old, was thought to be on the back nine of his career.
Johnson proved the doubters wrong. He had two 1,000 rushing seasons during his time with the Steelers, and became the first running back in team history to have a 1,000-yard rushing season. His second 1000-yard season came in 1964, at the age of 35. Johnson became the oldest player to achieve that 1,000-yard milestone.
Johnson rushed for 4,281 yards and 26 touchdowns in his six seasons in Pittsburgh before spending his last season with the Houston Oilers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
12. Worst: LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount has revitalized his career in his second stint with the New England Patriots. His 18 rushing touchdowns this past season were the most in the NFL since Adrian Peterson in 2009.
However, Blount’s pro career didn’t start off on high footing. The Steelers know this all too well. Blount inked a deal with the team in 2014, but soon ran into legal troubles, including an arrest for marijuana possession that summer in an incident involving fellow running back Le’Veon Bell. Nonetheless, Blount still started 11 games for the Steelers. He received 65 carries and rushed for just 266 yards and two touchdowns.
In an inexplicable display of unsportsmanlike conduct, Blount walked off the field during a November 2014 game after not getting a single carry.
The Steelers released him soon after, ending his run with the team after less than one season.
11. Best: Antonio Brown
Engage in any debate concerning the best wide receivers in the NFL today, and Antonio Brown’s name is bound to come up.
Since 2010, Brown has put up some of the best numbers of any wide out in the league. As a five-time Pro Bowler, Brown has racked up 8,377 receiving yards on 632 receptions. He also has 50 career touchdown receptions and led the NFL in receiving yards during the 2014 season. Brown also led the league in receptions in both 2014 and 2015.
Brown’s has the second most receptions, third-most receiving yards, and fourth-most touchdowns in team history.
The 28-year-old’s magnetic personality and affable demeanor have resulted in crossover appeal into sponsorships (Pepsi) and television appearances. Apparently, his dancing wasn’t limited to endzone celebrations, as he finished in fifth place on season 22 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
If Brown continues on his trajectory for 6-7 more seasons, he is a surefire Hall-of-Famer. He will go down as one of the greatest receivers in Steelers history.
10. Worst: Tim Worley
Worley arrived in Pittsburgh via first round pick in the 1989 draft. He joined the team with much fanfare after a standout senior season for the Georgia Bulldogs. That season, he ran for 17 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards. He seemed to carry that production into his rookie NFL season, rushing for five touchdowns and 770 yards on 195 touches in 1989.
Despite early promise, Worley’s career took some unfortunate twists and turns. 1990 saw his total yardage drop to 418 as rookie Barry Foster took the Pittsburgh backfield by storm. He missed the 1991 season with injury, and soon ran into legal troubles with the league. He missed two drug tests and was suspended for the entirety of the 1992 season.
Pittsburgh decided they had seen enough. Worley’s 16 fumbles as a Steeler didn’t help his case to stay. He was traded to the Bears in 1993, but was released during the 1994 season.
Worley racked up 1,338 yards and five touchdowns in four years with Pittsburgh.
9. Best: John Stallworth
Speaking of “greatest receivers in Steelers history,” take a look at John Stallworth. Stallworth, along with Lynn Swann, proved an invaluable target for Terry Bradshaw throughout the Steelers dynastic years in the mid to late 1970s.
Stallworth’s contributions were particularly special considering he was a fourth-round pick. From 1974-1987 he was a consistently reliable pass catcher who outplayed his original draft status.
Stallworth spent his entire career in Pittsburgh and won four Super Bowl titles. He raked in 537 receptions for 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns during his regular season career. The three-time Pro Bowler added another 12 touchdown receptions in the playoffs, including an NFL-record eight straight games with a touchdown reception. Clearly, Stallworth didn’t save his heroics for the regular season.
Even after Bradshaw retired in 1983, Stallworth’s production remained consistent. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
8. Worst: Don Shy
Don Shy’s run in Pittsburgh began shortly after Johnson left the team. Before his 1967 NFL debut, Shy was a world-class hurdler at San Diego State and ran some of the fastest times at the AAU championships. That speed never quite translated to the NFL level.
Shy played in 27 games in two seasons as a Steeler. He amassed 447 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Granted, Shy never got a proper opportunity to seize the starting running back role during his brief tenure in Pittsburgh. He only had 134 carries in that time, not enough to accrue any respectable totals.
Johnson, by comparison, had over 200 carries in three of his six seasons in Pittsburgh. Shy didn’t get the same opportunity.
Shy had his greatest success with the Chicago Bears, where he spent three seasons from 1970-1973.
7. Best: Ben Roethlisberger
Bradshaw may have more Super Bowl rings, but Roethlisberger has more team records. Since his 2004 debut, Roethlisberger has re-written the Steelers record book, having established top marks in literally every statistical category for quarterbacks.
Big Ben holds franchise records for games played (185), passing yards (46,814) and passing touchdowns (301). Roethlisberger proved to be special right out of the gate, as evidenced by his NFL-record 13 wins as a rookie.
He also holds the league record for most wins by a starting quarterback in his first five seasons with 51, and is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Speaking of Super Bowls, Roethlisberger guided his Steelers to two championships (2005 and 2008).
Roesthlisberger caused a bit of a scare for the Steelers faithful when he pondered retirement after the 2016 season. However, the latest reports indicate his intention to return behind center for the Steelers in 2017.
6. Worst: Jonathan Dwyer
Jonathan Dwyer was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, and struggled to earn consistent playing time. He played behind Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman during his time in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t until the 2012 season that Dwyer broke out to some degree.
He started in back-to-back weeks (Week 7 and Week 8) that season and had consecutive 100-yard rushing games. He was named starter that November, but was cut before the 2013 season. The Steelers brought him back temporarily, due to an injury to LaRod Stephens-Howling.
He signed with the Arizona Cardinals for the 2014 season, but his time there came to an abrupt end. Dwyer was cut after a domestic violence arrest, and he hasn’t played in the NFL since.
Charges against Dwyer were later dropped. In four years with the Steelers, Dwyer rushed for 971 yards and two touchdowns.
5. Best: Jerome Bettis
Jerome Bettis began his career with the Rams in 1993, where he was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, it was after his draft day trade to the Steelers in 1996 that he truly became “The Bus.” Bettis made an impact from the start, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons with the team.
He earned four of his six Pro Bowl selections while in a Steelers uniform. Even as Bettis’ rush yard totals declined by the mid-2000s, he still proved valuable for his imposing size and unrivaled ability to run over defenders. He had a career-high 13 TD rushes in 2004 at the age of 32.
Bettis retired after the team’s Super Bowl XL victory in February 2006.
In his ten seasons with Pittsburgh, Bettis averaged a franchise-best 72.9 yards a game. His 10,571 career yards and 78 touchdowns are second in team history, just behind Franco Harris.
4. Worst: Justin Brown
Justin Brown’s time with the Steelers was much like Blount’s. The wide receiver’s only season as a Steeler came in 2014. He also played less than the full 16 games. The production comparison between the two is somewhat similar as well. One of the only differences is Brown’s position. The rookie wide receiver was taken in the sixth round out of Oklahoma in the 2013 draft.
After not making the team during his rookie year, Brown played just eight games during the 2014 season. He caught 12 passes for 94 yards and 0 touchdowns.
The Steelers waived Brown at season’s end, but he was soon picked up by the Buffalo Bills. However, Brown’s fight for a roster spot came to an early end after an preseason injury.
Brown is currently a free agent, despite his relatively young age (he turns 26 in March). Perhaps he gets one more shot as a depth receiver on a young roster.
3. Best: Hines Ward
The Steelers have had many great receivers, from Lynn Swann, to Antonio Brown, from John Stallworth to Santonio Holmes. However, Hines Ward is the franchise leader in every statistical category for wide receivers.
He caught 1,000 passes for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. That is 35 more TDs than Brown and 22 more than Stallworth.
Ward proved to be a steal in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft, and earned a starting receiver spot by the 1999 season.
He spent his entire 14-year career in Pittsburgh and was Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target. The four-time Pro Bowler had 4 straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and added another 1,064 yard and eight touchdown catches in 14 postseason games.
Ward is a two-time Super Bowl champion and was named MVP of Super Bowl XL after the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
2. Worst: Limas Sweed
Swann, Stallworth, Ward, and Brown could very well make up the Mt. Rushmore of Steeelers’ receivers.
Perhaps Limas Sweed could’ve had a shot at greatness as well if not for a series of ill-timed injuries and penchant for dropping passes early in his career.
He was originally projected as a late first/high second round pick in the 2008 draft, but dropped to 53rd overall.
Sweed struggled to climb the Steelers receiver depth chart in his first two seasons with the team. His propensity to drop passes didn’t help either. He caught just six passes for 64 yards in his rookie season. For his career, he had just seven receptions for 69 yards and no touchdowns. He also dropped FIVE passes.
Sweed suffered an Achilles injury before the 2010 season. The Steelers released him in September 2011.
1. Best: Franco Harris
Bettis certainly had a prolific run, but Harris holds a special place in the hearts of the Steelers faithful. He is likely the name fans think of when they’re asked who the best rusher in team history is.
This association comes with good reason. Harris spent 12 seasons wearing the black and gold. From 1972-1983, Harris earned nine Pro Bowl selections, two first-team All-Pro selection, and four Super Bowl titles. He was named MVP of Super Bowl IX and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns during the 1976 season.
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Harris was a pre-Jerome Bettis of sorts. He was nearly impossible to bring down, which allowed him to establish franchise records in rush yards (11,950) and rushing touchdowns (91) during his run in Steel City.
Harris spent the final year of his career in Seattle, but will forever be remembered as a Steeler. He was named to the Steelers’ All-Time Team in 1982 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
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