Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers All Career-Year Team

By John Turney
At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Steelers. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Joe Greene’s best two seasons and use all defensive tackle slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:

The Steelers have been blessed with the deepest set of pivotmen in football. The First-team selection is Mike Webster, 1978, and the Second-teamer is Dermontti Dawson, 1996.

The honorable mentions are Maurkice Pouncey, 2011, Bill Walsh, 1954 (Pro Bowl), Ray Mansfield, 1972, and Jeff Hartings, 2004.

The guards are not as deep. The top two seasons are fairly clear, Alan Faneca, 2001, and David DeCastro, 2015, both All-Pros. The next set are Bruce Van Dyke, 1972, and Carlton Haselrig, 1992.

The honorable mentions for the guard spots are Gerry Mullins, 1979, Justin Strzelczyk, 1996, Will Wolford, 1997, Byron Gentry, 1938, Duval Love, 1994, and John Nisby, 1961.

Tunch Ilkin, 1988, and Leon Searcy, 1995, are the top two tackles. Ilkin was the top tackle in the NFL that season by Proscout, Inc. and was on various All-Pro teams. Larry Brown, 1982, and Jon Kolb, 1979, are the Second-teamers. Brown was a Pro Bowler and Kolb was on Paul Zimmerman's All-Pro team in 1979.

The honorable mentions are John Jackson, 1993 (All-AFC), Charlie Bradshaw, 1964, Marvel Smith, 2004, Frank Varrichione, 1958, Joe Coomer, 1941, Wayne Gandy, 2001, and Marcus Gilbert, 2015.

Tight ends are as follows: Heath Miller, 2012, then Eric Green, 1993. Then Bennie Cunningham, 1981, Adrian Cooper, 1992, and Mark Bruener, 1997 (Pro Bowl alternate).
Terry Bradshaw, 1978 (MVP) is First-team followed by Ben Roethlisberger, 2014. The thin honorable mentions are Neil O'Donnell, 1995, Jim Finks, 1952, and Bobby Layne, 1959 (7-2-1 win/loss record coming over from Lions).

The modern type fullbacks are Tim Lester, 1997,  Dan Kreider, 2004, honorable mentions  Jon Witman, 2001 and Will Johnson, 2014. The top three made Bettis's job easier and Johnson was the lead man for Le'Veon Bell.

Barry Foster, 1992 (All-Pro, 390 carries, 1690 yards, 4.3 average and 11 touchdowns) Bill Dudley, 1942, are the top two ball carriers. Dudley was a consensus All-Pro and led the NFL in rushing in 1942. Dudley's 1946 season was close, but in that year his contributions to defense set it apart and he was the NFL MVP for his many roles in our view.

Jerome Bettis, 1996 (All-Pro, 320-1431-4.5-11), and Franco Harris, 1975, are the Second-team picks. Bettis's 1997 season was considered as well, but the touchdowns and slightly better YPA made 1996 seem a bit better, but we're splitting hairs. Franco's top honor season may have been 1977, but in 1975 he had a career-high 14 touchdowns and was a consensus All-AFC. 

Le'Veon Bell, 2014, John Henry Johnson, 1962, Rocky Bleier, 1976, Rashard Mendenhall, 2010, and Willie Parker, 2006 are worthy honorable mentions.

The third-down backs are Rich Erenberg, 1985, and the Second-teamer is Richard Huntley, 1999. Mewelde Moore, 2009, and Rodney Carter, 1989, are the honorables.
The spot of third receiver goes to Antonio Brown, 2011 and Jim Smith, 1981. Followed by Jerricho Cotchery, 2013, Mike Wallace, 2009,  Bobby Shaw, 2001, Antwaan Randel-El, 2004, Martavis Bryant, 2015, Santonio Holmes, 2004, Ernie Mills, 1995, and even Theo Bell, 1980.

Lynn Swann, 1975, and Antonio Brown, 2014, are the top receiver seasons. Swann's numbers don't compare to recent receivers, but to those who saw him and had to cover him, he was usually to the first name that came up when asked who the best receiver was in the NFL. Even by current standards Antonio Brown is putting up ridiculous numbers.

John Stallworth, 1979, and Hines Ward, 2002, are the Second-team picks. They were clutch players who put up good numbers and also did little things that made their season stand out.

The fine list of honorable mentions is headed by Louis Lipps, 1985, Mike Wallace, 2010, Roy Jefferson, 1968, Buddy Dial, 1963, Gary Ballman, 1964, Plaxico Burress, 2002, Yancey Thigpen, 1997, Elbie Nickel, 1952, and  Ron Shanklin 1973.

Rocky Bleier, 1973, is the First-team special teams player and a close second was Lee Flowers, 1996, (30 tackles) and also close to those two is Fred McAfee, 1995, but he has to settle for the top honorable mention slot. Also HMs are Zack Valentine, 1979 (26 tackles) Chidi Iwuoma, 2005, and Orpheus Roye, 1996, and  Jerry Olsavsky, 1991 (15 tackles)

Lynn Chandnois, 1952 (35.2 average, 2 touchdowns), is the top kick returner and he's followed by Gary Ballman, 1963 (31.7 average one touchdown).

The honorable mentions are Rod Woodson, 1989, Larry Anderson, 1978, and Antonio Brown, 2011.

Louis Lipps, 1985(12.1 average, 2 TDs) takes the top punt return spot and Antwaan Randle El, 2003, is next. Leading the honorable mentions is Ray Mathews, 1952, then Lynn Swann, 1974, Johnny Sample, 1961, and Bill Dudley, 1946.

Bobby Joe Green, 1961 is the First-team punter when he had a 41.4 net yards per punt, usually high for that era. He's followed by Pat Brady, 1953 (40.4 net). The top honorable mention is Bobby Walden, 1969, and finally Craig Colquitt, 1981.

Gary Anderson, 1985, is top kicking season, the next best is Roy Gerela, 1974. The honorables are Shaun Suisham 2013, Mike Clark, 1966, Lou Michaels, 1962 and Jeff Reed, 2008. The Steelers are one of the only teams where the recent kickers have it pretty tough in that Heinz Field is not a good venue for the kicking game.

L.C. Greenwood, 1974 (73 tackles, 9.5 stuffs and 11 sacks), and Aaron Smith, 2004 (Pro Bowl, 43 tackles, 8 sacks) are the top two defensive ends. Some Steeler players said that Greenwood's 1973 was his best, and it was excellent, he was coming into his own. Injuries plagued him in 1975-77 and perhaps held his production back. But in 1974 he was a consensus All-Pro and had 11 sacks. Smith played a thankless spot as a left defensive end in a 3-4 defense and always played well.

John Baker, 1964 (12½ sacks) and Dwight White, 1972 (Pro Bowl, 45 tackles, 9 sacks, 6 stuffs) are the backups.

Bill McPeak, 1956 (Pro Bowl), Ernie Stautner, 1958 (All-Pro), Billy Ray Smith, 1960 (8 sacks) and Ben McGee, 1966 (Pro Bowl, All-Conference), are the 4-3 honorable mentions. The 3-4 honorables are Keith Willis, 1986 (54 tackles, 12 sacks), Ray Seals, 1995 (Second-team All-AFC, 47 tackles, 8.5 sacks), Brett Keisel, 2010 (Pro Bowl),  and Kimo von Oelhoffen, 2003 (35 tackles, 8 sacks).

Joe Greene, 1972 and Eugene Lipscomb, 1961 are the 4-3 defensive tackles, and Casey Hampton, 2009, is the top nose tackle and that season he had 43 tackles and 2.5 sacks and was a force in the run defense. Greene's 1974 may have been as good or better, but Greene at his peak was as good as any defensive tackle, ever. In 1972 he had 63 tackles, 11 sacks and 8.5 stuffs and was the AP and NEA NFL Defensive Player of the year.

Lipscomb had 17 sacks in 1961 and was an All-Pro as well. He changed his game when he went to the Steelers, in Baltimore he was more of a sideline-to-sideline defensive tackle, and in that, on occasion, was a linebacker in a 2-point stance in a quasi-3-4 defense. With the Steelers, he got up the field and was in the backfield all the time and his sack totals reflected it. 

Ernie Holmes, 1974, Ernie Stautner, 1956, and Gary Dunn, 1982, are the next set. Holmes was, at times, dominant in 1974 he was Second-team All-Pro and had 104 tackles, 7.5 were stuffs and 11½ sacks. Stautner, in our film reviews, never stood out, but in 1956 he was All-Pro and for that, he gets the nod. Dunn was All-pro in 1984, but he went with 1982 when he still was in the game in nickel situations and had 6 sacks in 9 games.

Joe Krupa, 1963 (Pro Bowl, 7 sacks) is the 4-3 honorable mention and Joel Steed, 1997, and   Gerald Williams, 1990, are the nose tackle honorables.

Keith Willis, 1983 (14 sacks), is the top third down rusher and Keith Gary, 1983 (7.5 sacks), is next. The honorable mentions are Rodney Bailey, 2002, and LC Greenwood, 1970.

Jack Lambert, 1976, is his top year, though many others were very close. In 1976 he was the consensus Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-Pro and had 159 tackles (7.5 were stuffs), 3½ sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 7 defensive fumbles recovered and 5 batted passes. His next-best seasons were likely 1979 and 1981.

His backup is Myron Pottios, 1963 (All-Pro, Pro Bowl, 4 picks). The two honorable mentions are Dale Dodrill, 1954 (Pro Bowl), and Henry Davis, 1972 (Pro Bowl).

The 3-4 inside backers list is incredibly deep. It is lead by James Farrior, 2004 (All-Pro, 94 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 picks, one for a TD, 3 FR) and Levon Kirkland, 1997 (All-Pro, 126 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INTs). The honorables are Lawrence Timmons, 2012. Timmons didn't get any post-season honors in 2012 other than being a Pro Bowl alternate but his numbers of 106 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 INTs, one for a score, 5 PD, 2 FF and one recovery were very impressive and stood out.

Other honorable mentions are Kendrell Bell, 2001 (Second-team All-Pro, 83 tackles, 9 sacks and some huge hits), Robin Cole, 1984 (Pro Bowl, 94 tackles),  Hardy Nickerson, 1992 (114 tackles, 2 sacks) and David Little, 1990 (All-AFC, Pro Bowl, 80 tackles, 4 FF).

Like Greene and Lambert, Jack Ham could have several years listed. We chose 1975 but 1974, 1972, 1973 and others would fit. Pro Football Weekly named him their NFL Defensive Player of the year in a narrow choice over Jack Youngblood and Mel Blount, so by that margin we picked 1975. He had 88 tackles, 3 sacks, and two picks.

The top rushbacker is James Harrison, 2008, which is a key position in the Steelers defenses which have been essentially a 3-4 since 1982. He was also an NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All_pro, had 101 tackles and 16 sacks.

Greg Lloyd, 1995, is the backup to Ham and Kevin Greene, 1994, is the backup to Harrison. Lloyd had a few seasons that qualified, but we are going with 1995. He had 116 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 3 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles and in the dime defense he was the lone 'backer. Greene was All-Pro and led the NFL in sacks with 14 and had 69 tackles and was a consensus All-Pro..

Andy Russell, 1974, John Reger, 1961, and  Jerry Shipkey, 1951 are the traditional linebacker honorable mentions. Russell was All-AFC, Reger was a Second-team All-Pro and Shipkey was a Pro Bowler in their respective seasons. Russell was All-Pro in 1975, but 1974 seemed to be a better overall year. He had 82 tackles (9.5 were stuffs) had 4 sacks, 5 passes deflected, 2 picks and 2 forced fumbles. He didn't have those kinds of numbers in 1975, but he was a consistent player and in 1973 was another potential candidate for his best season, as well but we give it to 1974.

The rushbacker honorable mention list is a who's who among pass rushers of their era. Joey Porter, 2002 (All-Pro, 88 tackles, 9 sacks 4 picks, 10 PD), Jason Gildon, 2001 (All-Pro, 53 tackles, 12 sacks), Mike Merriweather, 1984 (Second-team All-Pro, 101 tackles, 15 sacks, 11 PD), LaMarr Woodley, 2009 (Second-team All-Pro, 62 tackles, 13.5 sacks) , and Chad Brown, 1996 (All-Pro, 81 tackles, 13 sacks, 2 picks, 3 FF).

Mel Blount, 1975, and Rod Woodson, 1993, both Defensive Players of the Year are the corners. Blount led the NFL with 11 interceptions to go along with his 43 tackles and Woodson had 8 picks and 2 sacks and 95 tackles.

Carnell Lake, 1997, is a Second-teamer, though it is a bit of what Paul Zimmerman would call a "cop out" since he played both corner and safety in 1997. However, he started an equal amount of games at both and in sub defenses (nickel and dime) he was a coverage man, not the deep safety, so in snaps, we are confident he played more corner and in those duties, he was in a position to blitz and he led the Steelers in sacks with 6  to go with his 60 tackles. Johnny Sample, 1961, is the other Second-team corner. He was All-Pro and picked off 8 passes, returning one for a score.

Honorables are Jack Butler, 1953 (then a right defensive halfback), Brady Keys, 1966, J.T. Thomas, 1976, Ike Taylor, 2008, Marv Woodson, 1967, William Gay, 2014, Dean Derby, 1959, Dwayne Woodruff, 1984 and Willie Williams, 1995 (7 picks, one for a score).

Troy Polamalu, 2010 narrowly edges Donnie Shell, 1979. And those two just edged Carnell Lake, 1993. Mike Wagner, 1973, Clendon Thomas, 1963, and Lee Flowers, 1998, round out the honorables.

Polamalu was the AP Defensive Player of the Year and had 63 tackles and 7 interceptions, one being a pick 6. Shell is still the highest graded strong safety, on a consistent basis, by Proscout, Inc. He was a complete safety and was smart, had good ball skills (top intercepting strong safety with 52 picks, could hit, had good position on receivers and could play middle-of-the-field safety and half-field (Cover-2) with excellent. In 1979 Shell had 80 tackles, picked off 5 passes, had 3½ sacks and was All-Pro. He had several seasons, though, in which he was just as good.

In 1993 Carnell Lake had 91 tackles, 5 sacks and 4 interceptions though he did not get any post-season honors that season. Wagner was a classic worker type, and his abilities allowed the Steelers to use more Cover-2 than most teams in the NFL at the time due to his range. He led the NFL in picks in 1973 with eight.

Jack Butler, 1957, is the top free/right safety. Butler led the NFL in interceptions and was a consensus All-Pro. Bill Dudley, 1946, was a single safety in a three-man secondary and was amazing. He was the NFL MVP, picked off a league-leading 10 passes returned them for a league-leading 242 yards and returned one for a touchdown to share the league lead in that.  We picked Butler over Dudley due to his overall abilities in coverage and instincts.

Glen Edwards, 1976 (6 picks, All-AFC and Pro Bowl),  Darren Perry, 1994, and Ryan Clark, 2011, are the honorables.

Tony Dungy, 1978 is the top nickel with 6 picks in his role and next is Deshea Townsend, 2001. The honorables are Bryant McFadden, 2007, William Gay, 2008, Larry Griffin, 1990, Anthony Washington, 1981, and Glen Edwards, 1972.

Agree or disagree? Leave comments below.


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  3. Spotted a typo on here.
    You have Joe Krupa listed as "John".
    No biggie!
    Just thought I'd let ya know.

  4. After watching how the NFL Draft unfolded on the ESPN 30 for 30 program on the 1983 Draft : Elway To Marino, I am convinced Marino was meant to be a Steeler.

    The Rooney's wanted him and Noll had him right there, but for some reason, they didn't pull the trigger. Maybe it was because the Steelers had already drafted Mark Malone, who was Noll's kind of an athlete, or Noll just thinking that he needed more defensive help, or even that Noll thought that Marino needed to develop as a young man away from Pittsburgh, but the fans deserved better since Marino was a hometown phenom, that changed the AFC balance, when he joined the Dolphins.
    I believe with Marino and a more balanced offence, to go with an always hard hitting defence, that soon would get players like Rod Woodson, Hardy Nickerson, Greg Lloyd, Thomas Everett and Carnell Lake, the Steelers would have at least won a Super Bowl,but Don Shula, not Noll, took the chance.

  5. Yes Steeler fans might not agree, but when Marino went to the Dolphins, he beat the Steelers the first four times he faced them, including the 84 AFC Championship Game...