Steeler Review: Grading the Starters (and some who didnt start)

This is my player by player review for the Steelers squad of the 2008-2009 Superbowl winning team. I will cover every starter on offense and defense, and will also include some players who werent starters but got considerable oppurtunities to contribute or those who shone in limited time. I will also review our rookie class and estimate what our future holds. Brace yourself for a long - but hopefully informative and entertaining - read.

Our offense was solid but unspectacular, but game up with the goods when it had to in crunch time. The O-Line improved as the season went on, so im not going to complain much when we win the superbowl.

Defense. Do i really need to say anything?



Grade Guide: 1-2 - Pretty Terrible. 3-4 - Below Average 5-6 - Average 7-8 - Solid 9 - Great 10 - Team MVP Calibre


Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Exp: 5 yrs:

Big Ben, coming off a year with 32 tds and a pro bowl, had high expectations heading into the 2008 season. And obviously by bringing home his second Lombardi in 4 years, its tough to criticise him. Big Ben had his moments, and whilst during some games our offense sputtered and Big Ben couldnt move us with his arm, he always knew how to come back and win when it matters. His stats dont reflect how he played at all. He was gutsy, he made the plays when he had to to win games, and put a stamp on that mark in the Superbowl by doing it once again. Overall he was very solid once again, and by seasons end, showed his maturity and composure. Grade: 9

Byron Leftwich, Backup QB, Exp: 6 yrs:

I'll be honest, when Batch went down and we signed Byron, i was less than crazy about it. Sure he had a strong arm but his delivery was slow and oft-erratic. If anything i just hoped he wouldnt be required to be on the field. Big Ben was our QB and never wanted to seem him on the sidelines. However the guy was a class act all year, and highlighted that against Washington, never let the tone die when he replaced Ben. A class act, he knew his role and did it with determination. I really hope a team gives this guy a shot. Grade: 10

Willie Parker, RB, Exp: 5 yrs:

My god did Parker start off with a bang. After back to back shredding of Houston and Cleveland, I though it was 2006 all over again with this guy. The came Philly who gave him less than 2 yards pc, then he missed 5 of the next 6 games with injury. Although he had a pretty respectable game against the 'Skins, that first step was missing. Lets face it Parker when healthy and on his game is one of the best in the league, but he still lacks the inside ability that seems to have hindered him since the departure of Faneca. Any team with solid DLineman, Parker couldnt get going up the middle (Phi, Ny, Bal, Dal, Ten etc). Losing the "power back" Mendenhall didnt help, as we have no true inside runner. However Parker never gave anything less than what he could, and i hope he can return to full strength next year. Grade: 6.5

Mewelde Moore, Backup RB, Exp: 5 yrs:

Wow this guy was a surprise. Losing Mendenhall for the season and Parker for 5 games gave this guy his chance and in most respects, took full control of it. Mendenhall had solid performance against Cincy, Jacksonville and New York (despite losing), and also had a couple clutch receptions out the backfield, most notable the 24 yard catch against Baltimore on route to the win. Spelled parker well and was mostly solid, although also struggled running inside against tougher D Lines. Grade: 7.5

Hines Ward, WR, Exp: 11 yrs:

11th season? Time to accept a lesser role? Not so fast. The cagey veteran once again proved his worth as one of the most consistent and reliable targets in the NFL and Steeler history, having his best statistical season since 2004, and also was dominant as a redzone threat, catching 7 tds. Never one to shy away from throwing blocks, catching in traffic or getting dirt on his jersey. Disappeared in some games, but also had 4 100yd receiving games. If not for that knee injury in the AFC title game, would have been even more effective in the postseason, but that didnt stop him putting his heart and soul out there on show. A class act, hall of fame bound player. The classic Steeler. Grade: 9

Santonio Holmes, WR, Exp: 3 yrs, Superbowl MVP:

Had hefty expectations heading into this year, almost unfairly so, as ol' Hinesy showed he has plenty left. Was his usual solid self as a #2 throughout the season, and helped stretch the field opening holes for Hines, Heath and Nate. Missed one game due to injury, but from week 11 onwards was for the most part very very effective. This guy really showed his true colours in the postseason, coming up with some huge game-changing plays in each contest, and also many other big plays that were called back. He set us alight with the punt return td against San Diego, the 65 yard catch and dash against B'more, and of course his MVP performace in the Superbowl, where he and Ben combined to produce one of the greatest winning drives in NFL history. I truly believe this guy has now got over the hump and ready to be in elite conversation. That may be premature, but he now knows what he is capable of. Grade: 9. As John Madden says, big players, make big plays in big games. Congrats on a great postseason and the Superbowl MVP title

Nate Washington, WR, Exp: 4 yrs:

 Solid, and spectacular at times, he hauled in at least one pass for 45 or more yards for 4 consecutive weeks at one point. Then teams paid attention to him running streak routes and didnt really let him. Pretty much what you would expect from a #3 receiver in the league, he also badly disappeared at times. I think he can be a solid player and #2 for the Titans, and I wish him the best of luck. You never ever heard this guy complain about everything, he was patient, and did his very best when called upon. He gets open deep quite consistently, and Ben missed him a few times, mainly due to pressure forcing an erratic deep ball. Best of luck to ya Nate. Grade: 6

Heath Miller, TE, Exp: 4 years:

I'll start by saying this. Get this guy to a Pro Bowl! He is a great receiving threat, im sorry our team doesnt throw for 4000 yards so that he cant get 900-1000 yards a year, and he is also a very solid redzone threat, im sorry that we also have Hines who gets a lot of RZ TDs so this guy misses out. Oh wait another thing, he can block! You show me the number of blocks a "pro bowl" tight end like Gates, or Winslow throws in a game. This guy is an absolute workhorse, and i think some crazy number like 80% of the time we run behind this guy because he seals the end of the line so well, but he also follows through on his blocks, and can blcok one on one in the open field. He was a monster contributor to the team this year and deserves his 2nd ring, as he paved the way for our biggest runs and YAC totals this season. Grade: 9

Willie Colon, T, Exp: 3 yrs:

I dont pay much attention to O-Line during the season so my "insight" wont be very good here. Nonetheless i'll give it a crack. Colon was an average starter at Tackle, was often beaten by speed rushers off the edge. Needs to work on footwork a bit, and also hand movements when blocking, he gets moved off the line to consistently. He still has plenty of upside,and the starts he got this year will help him next year. O-Line success isnt about individuals, but continuity Grade: 5

Darnell Stapleton, G, Exp: 2 yrs:

For what was expected of him, Stapleton wasnt actually all that bad. He started 12 games for a guy we expected to be on the bench the majority of the time. Held blocks pretty well, but suffered from lack of technique, when he didnt get a good first lunge into a defender, he was easily shifted sideways. Also struggled against more complex blitz schemes when dropping back in pass protection. However, you only get better with experience, and I believe this guy has a pretty decent upside. Grade: 5.5

Justin Hartwig, C, Exp: 7 yrs:

Was solid but unspectacular. I think with his age we are still in need of addressing C in the draft, but he can be a good stop-gap solution before youth prevails. Average in run blocking, wasnt the best at getting defenders out the way, and struggled with 3-4 NTs like Ngata. Pass blocking was mostly pretty good as far as i could see. Grade: 6

Chris Kemoeatu, G, Exp: 4 yrs:

Was actually pretty solid by my standards. He was one of our better O-Lineman, and he was pretty solid in both run blocking and pass blocking. As with most of our O-Lineman, he struggled against teams with bigger personnel, and didnt always get a good jump off the line. False started quite a bit, but as ive said before this sort of thing comes with experience, and by keeping most of our O-Line from last season actually has its benefits in terms of keeping continuity growing. Im glad he didnt go to the Jets. Grade: 5.5

Max Starks, T, Exp: 5 yrs:

Solid and versatile, tall and heavy with long arms. Starks is like a prototypical Tackle, but needs to work on technique and quickness. Some games he does brilliant, other games he can be off. Still a work in progress, he is usually at his best when run blocking, finess rushers usually have the better of this guy. I think our O-Line will be greatly improved next year regardless of whether we add or dorp anyone. He was franchised i beleive mainly because of his versatility along the line, which you dont find every day. He still has a lot of potential. Grade: 6




Aaron Smith, DE, Exp: 10 yrs:

This guy has been one of the best and underrated D-Lineman in the NFL. He stuffs the run so well, and also creates a heap of pass rush pressure. It may not always result in sacks, but throw-aways and scrambles are also the result of good D-Line play. Smith continued to be one the keys to our #1 rated D, as well as #2 rush d, collecting 5.5 sacks along the way and grabbed the 2nd ring of his career. Our D-Line just isnt as dominant with this guy on the sidelines. Grade: 8.5

Casey Hampton, NT, Exp: 8 yrs:

Lets face it, he is a load. Stats mean nothing when it comes to 3-4 Nose Tackles. Casey is very strong and almost always occupies 2 blockers, which is a key reason why Woodley and Harrison get so many sacks. You can almost attribute every sack that occurs on the outside to the presence Hampton has on the inside. He makes life hell for O-Lineman, pure and simple. Grade: 8.5

Brett Keisel, DE, Exp: 7 yrs:

Keisel has actually been a very solid player for us for the last couple of years without drawing much attention or kudos for his play. Despite playing in only 10 games, Keisel still drew adequate amounts of pressure, despite only recording one sack during the season. He is a great run stuffer opposite Smith, and he came up big for us in the playoffs and the Superbowl. Grade: 7.5

Travis Kirschke, Backup DE, Exp: 12 yrs:

Kirschke played pretty well when called upon, and had 6 starts in place of Keisel. Not as potent as a run stuffer, but his presence never hindered our run D. He collected 2 sacks along the way, and for an older guy, he still has a pretty good motor for a backup. has been around the block and still understands packages and generally plays well when called upon. Grade: 6.5

Lamarr Woodley, OLB, Exp: 2 yrs:

If you have read my "Why i like #56" fanpost, you'll understand how high i am on this guy. All bias aside, Woodley broke out this season and produced a hell of a season. 11.5 sacks, he was a great complement to Harrison, fast off the edge, big, strong and has an incredible motor. He defines the LB position from a Steeler fans point of view and is an intimidating force. He hit the wall mid-late season, but rebounded and had one of the greatest postseasons of any LB in history. The scariest thing is, it was only his 2nd year. He put the perfect finishing touch to the season by sacking Warner and forcing the fumble that sealed the Steelers superbowl win. This guy will be a monster for years to come, and i can only hope his entire career will be spent in the black and gold. His grade is boosted by his monster post-season Grade: 10

James Harrison, OLB, Exp: 6 yrs. NFL Defensive Player of the Year, ProBowl:

What can you say about this guy? He posted a Steelers record with 16 sacks, recorded over 100 tackles and an interception, as well as his interception return-touchdown in the Superbowl. People wouldnt be talking about Wares 20 sacks if the refs wouldnt let this guy be held all the time. He had one of the most dominant seasons ever, and is also underrated against the passing game. I'm not sure that you need to know much more. Grade: 10

James Farrior, ILB, Exp: 12 yrs. ProBowl:

This guy just won't die. Farrior continues to have one of the best motors at ILB/MLB despite just completing his 12th season, and had 133 tackles - most since 2003, and was awarded another probowl berth. Equally great at both pass coverage and run stopping, and can also rush the passer. He flies to the ball carrier, and has great tackling technique, and can defend sideline to sideline. Rarely do you see this guy on his back or more than 5 yards away from the end of a play. Grade: 9

Larry Foote, ILB, Exp: 7 yrs:

Foote saw a drop in his playing time, due to the rise of Timmons, and he will probably be reduced to an even lesser role next season, which is no knock on his ability, but more so that the future is now for Timmons, who seems ready. Foote was still solid and never a burden, grabbing a decent amount of tackles per game and never ever let his reduced role affect his performance or willingness. Class act Foote, kudos to you. Grade: 6.5

Lawrence Timmons, ILB/OLB, Exp: 2 yrs:

After a quiet rookie campaign, Timmons somewhat exploded in his second season. He saw considerable playing time, and really made the most of it. He grabbed roughly 70 tackles, 5 sacks and an INT, and was mostly very effective and left his mark on the field. Big and imposing, he seems like he will warrant that 1st round pick in the future, as well as continue to keep our D in the top 5. He needs to work a little on tackling and being fully commited to a tackle, the most notable example was when he got run over by LeRon McClain. He has a load of potential. Grade: 7.5

Ryan Clark, S, Exp: 7 yrs:

You can't question this guys commitment to the team. He absolutely lays it out there for 60 minutes, each and every game. As hard hitting as safeties get, he doesnt come up with many ints or sacks(rare for a FS anyway), but he is always willing to do anything, even knock himself out to make a tackle (and force a fumble). He is quick, and can cover sideline to sideline, as well as come up in run support. Not as flashy as his opposite safety, but a talented player and important to our team all the same. Grade: 8

Troy Polamalu, S, Exp: 6 yrs, ProBowl:

Troy came along in leaps and bounds this year, which sounds strange to say about a guy who is already considered elite. He put the injuries of last season behind him and cam out with one of his best seasons to date. He pulled off some of the most amazing interceptions of the season, and was an absolute ballhawk. With his ability to fly to the ball carrier, recognise plays and execute tackles he is one of the most gifted players on the Steelers roster, as well as the entire NFL for that matter. Grade: 9.5

Tyrone Carter, Backup S, Exp: 9 yrs:

Tyrone was reduced to a more garbage time, and special teams defender, but he never gave anything less than everything he had. 3 interceptions, including 2 in one game. Carter is a pretty consistent player, his only knock is he lacks good enough speed to be a starter. Grade: 6

Ike Taylor, CB, Exp: 6 yrs:

Ike followed up on a solid 2007 season with another great year. Whats that? He only had 1 int? Taylor constantly shut down the NFLs best receivers, and his only knock was in the superbowl when he let Larry get by him a couple times. Doesnt possess the greatest set of hands, but is well and truly a shutdown corner. I hope to see him take even further strides in 2009. Grade: 8.5

Bryant Mcfadden, CB, Exp: 4 yrs:

Despite missing 6 games, Mcfadden came along in strides in 2008. His ability to stick to a receiver make it very frustrating for opposing offenses to get the better of him, he was good for 2 ints this season, and he is also a pretty solid open field tackler. I hope we can keep him, but if not i wish him luck for which ever path he goes in FA. Grade: 7

Deshea Townsend, CB, Exp: 11 yrs:

Old but reliable corner, Deshea lost snaps to both Will Gay and Bryant McFadden at times, but continued to, as always, put his best foot forward every play. He still showed brilliance at times, most notably the defensive touchdown he got from an int in the Dallas game. Earned his second superbowl ring and is a great leader on our team. Grade: 7

William Gay, Backup CB, Exp: 2 yrs:

He really showed the ability to make plays for our team, and lived up to the hype that i had hoped to see after 2 impressive preseasons. He jumped at the chance to play some ball and i think he didnt disappoint. If McFadden doesnt come back, i think he will improve enough to maybe supplant Townsend for the starting job late next season. He will only get better the more he plays. Grade: 6.5




Not many of our rookies saw extensive game time, Mendenhall had the best chance, but a shoulder injury ended his season very prematurely. I gave no grades due to the fact that no one really got enough time to warrant a grade.

1st Round: Rashard Mendenhall, RB: Rashard proved to have nerves at the NFL level, and had a couple key fumbles. He ran tough up the inside, but will enter this season pretty much untapped. Will be interesting to see how he does.

2nd Round: Limas Sweed, WR: Limas barely saw the field as a rookie, as many rookie Steelers WR end up doing. He had a pretty boring season, had a couple key drops - probably due to nerves - and did look like a rookie. He did however put in a couple huge blocks down the stretch. Will be looked on to have a good season next year with Washington departing for Tennessee.

3rd Round: Bruce Davis, OLB/DE: Didnt see the field, made 7 tackles in preseason.

4th Round: Tony Hills, T: Didnt see the field, however will have a chance to continue to develop and compete for some playing time next season

5th Round: Dennis Dixon, QB: Showed some great potential in the preseason to be a Slash like player in the future, and depending if Batch stays or we pick up a backup in FA, he has the chance to compete for the backup job next season

6th Round: Mike Humpal, OLB: Made 2 tackles in preseason. Didnt see the field in regular season. Has since been cut from the team

6th Round: Ryan Mundy, FS: Made 3 tackles in preseason. On practice squad



Well thats my analysis, hope that those of you who perservered through reading this enjoyed it






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