I don’t normally like to get into this sort of thing. For one, it’s rather personal putting out there my nine favorite current Steelers. For another thing, well, I don’t want to divide the fans by divulging such information—I ain’t trying to mess with my money.
However, I feel that I have a responsibility to you, the reader, to rank my nine favorite current Steelers players. If not now, when?
No. 9: Ramon Foster
Yes, I realize Foster is no longer with the Steelers as he recently announced his retirement after 11 years of some of the most consistent and glorious left guard play the NFL has ever seen. But I cannot help it. The Big Ragu just means so much to me. Way back when, when he was just a 2009 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, I knew there was something special about Foster. I could sense he had what it took—guts, character, intestinal fortitude, the edge, the right stuff, what the French call a certain I don’t know what—to beat the odds and make it as an offensive lineman in the NFL. After biding his time and waiting for his shot to start on an offensive line which had been in decline for a few seasons, Foster finally got his chance in 2011 and never looked back. That’s right, Foster started 14 games or more in each season from 2011 to 2019 and proved to be an anchor for an offensive line that eventually grew into one of the most superior in the NFL. He may have been surrounded by high-end talent and high draft choices, but he was a leader, not only of his unit, but of the Steelers locker room, so much so his teammates voted him their union representative.
Foster may have never been voted to a Pro Bowl or named to an All-Pro team, but he’ll always be the ultimate pro in my eyes. Come back, Ramon! I miss you, Big Ragu! I’ll pay your salary!
One more year! One more year! One more year!
No. 8: Joe Haden
When Haden was released by the Browns for salary reasons near the end of their 2017 training camp, I didn’t think the Steelers had a prayer of signing the eighth-overall pick out of Florida in the 2010 NFL Draft.
But not only did Pittsburgh sign him, it happened in the blink of an eye. Just like that, Haden, a two-time Pro Bowler in Cleveland, gave the Steelers much-maligned secondary an air of respectability. And while it would take a few more years—and a few more acquisitions—before the unit was truly complete, Haden played like a legit team MVP candidate from Day 1.
Just how appreciative was Haden of finally making the playoffs after years of struggle with the Browns? He slept in his Steelers 2017 AFC North Champions t-shirt. How cool is that?
Not only has Haden proven to be an invaluable asset on the football field, he’s simply the greatest guy in the world. When you hear the stories of the bond he has with his little brother, Jacob, who was born with special needs, it just makes you want to root for him even more.
I love you, Joe Haden! Don’t ever leave! If your AFC North Champions t-shirt ever gets lost in the laundry, you can have mine.
No. 7: Maurkice Pouncey
So just how did the Steelers continue their rich history of exceptional and Hall of Fame center play? By drafting Maurkice Pouncey out of Florida with the 18th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. It was apparent from his first few reps in practice as a rookie that Pouncey was the best player along an offensive line which had struggled for years to perform at an even mediocre level. Not only did Pouncey prove to be the Steelers best offensive lineman, he immediately became one of the best in the entire NFL by making his first of eight Pro Bowls in 2010. In fact, Pouncey has made the Pro Bowl in each season that he hasn’t been injured. And for as much criticism as he’s taken for his injuries over the years, they only really cost him two seasons which isn’t bad for a demanding position such as center.
Not only has Pouncey been a great player, he’s been, without a doubt, one of the big dogs in the Steelers locker room. He’s a true alpha and someone that isn’t afraid to speak his mind when he has to. Remember the end of the 2017 season, when fans were upset that Pittsburgh cut James Harrison, who was playing the martyr role for not getting enough playing time? Who was the first player to speak up and let the world know that Deebo was full of it and was acting like a bad teammate on the way out the door? That’s right, it was No. 53.
Speaking of No. 53, he hasn’t always been one of the favorites of sites such as Pro Football Focus, but they can perhaps buy some tickets years down the road and drive to Canton to see Pouncey join No. 52 Mike Webster and No. 63 Dermontti Dawson as Steelers centers who will forever be immortalized.
Put that in your rankings and smoke it, PFF. I love you, Maurkice! Don’t listen to the haters. They’re known for hating.
No. 6: Bud Dupree
The 22nd pick by the Steelers in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dupree spent his first two seasons in Pittsburgh showing glimpses of potential. Like, for example, when he came back from injury late in the 2016 season and rattled off sack after sack down the stretch and into the playoffs. There seemed to be big things in store for Dupree as he prepared for his third season. “Defensive Player of the Year,” they all said. Unfortunately, Dupree didn’t quite reach the potential many had hoped over his next two seasons. “He’s a bust!” they all screamed.
It didn’t matter that Dupree entered 2019 with 20 career sacks—not great numbers, but certainly not bust-worthy--the fans were down on Bud. But Dupree finally reached his potential in 2019, racking up a career high 11.5 sacks.
Just how valuable was Dupree to the Steelers suddenly elite defense in 2019? So valuable, Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on Dupree and will pay him nearly $16 million in 2020.
I love you, Alvin! You get yours!
No. 5: T.J. Watt
When the Steelers made T.J. Watt—the little brother of the legendary J.J. Watt—the 30th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, many wondered about his bend and about his inexperience at outside linebacker (he spent a portion of his college career at Wisconsin playing tight end).
However, it wasn’t long before many, including his head coach Mike Tomlin, were referring to Watt as a one-rep learner in practice. And it didn’t take long before Watt made an impression on Steeler Nation, tallying two sacks in his very first preseason game against the Giants.
It also didn’t take long before Watt made NFL teams realize that one of them probably should have drafted him before the Steelers had a chance. That’s right, Watt’s rookie stat-line that included 54 tackles, seven sacks, seven passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble was perhaps the most impressive of any linebacker’s in the entire league.
Obviously, over his next two seasons, Watt established himself as one of the best defenders in the entire NFL. And with another fantastic year in 2019, which included 14.5 sacks, Watt was a serious contender for an award his big brother has won three times—NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Watt didn’t win the award, but it’s only a matter of time.
I love you, T.J. Don’t let the haters hate once that money starts rolling in! From one T.J. to another, you deserve every penny!
No. 4: Cameron Heyward
Who doesn’t love Cam Heyward, the biggest of all the big dogs in the Steelers locker room? Not only is Heyward a great leader, a fine captain and a fantastic football player, who can think of a better human being off the football field? Heyward’s late father, Ironhead, played at Pitt back in the 1980s. So perhaps it was only fitting his son made it to the Burgh via The Ohio State as the Steelers first-round pick back in 2011.
For all the talk of what a great dude and great leader Heyward has been, it’s almost as if his exceptional play has gotten lost in the shuffle. The man has 54 sacks in nine seasons. Not stellar numbers, but sneaky good ones. Furthermore, his penchant for getting after the quarterback really took off in 2017, and he’s recorded 29 sacks over the past three seasons. No, he’s not Aaron Donald, but he’s one of the premiere defensive linemen in the entire NFL. The man’s a three-time Pro Bowl player and a two-time First-Team All-Pro. Not bad, not bad at all.
I love you, Cam! Don’t ever leave. All you need is a title or two, and nobody will ever be allowed to wear your No. 97 again.
No. 3: Vince Williams
Speaking of haters always hating, people have always looked down on Williams ability to cover receivers on passing plays. But while they were looking down on Williams, the 2013 sixth-round pick out of Florida State, he was establishing himself as one of the young leaders of a team in transition.
I love Williams’ story. I love how he was basically thrown into the fire during his rookie season and started 11 games for a Steelers team that was salary cap compromised and ravaged by injuries. Unfortunately for Williams, it would be a few more years before he got a shot at a lot more playing time on defense. But in the meantime, he became one of Pittsburgh’s best special teams players.
For his career, Williams, a man that has always seemed in danger of being replaced by a faster and more athletic inside linebacker, has 409 tackles and 17.5 sacks. Not gaudy numbers, not Pro Bowl numbers. But you can’t fill every need in the first or second round. Sometimes, you have to find and develop guys in the later rounds.
Vince Williams may never be a superstar inside linebacker, but he’ll go down as this era’s David Little or Larry Foote. Not a bad legacy. Not a bad legacy at all.
I love you, VinnyVidiVici!
No. 2: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Has any Steeler ever burst onto the scene with more charm and charisma? If so, JuJu, Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, isn’t far down the list. Whether he was blocking Vontaze Burfict into the following week or riding his bike around town, Smith-Schuster spent his entire rookie season endearing himself to Steelers fans. It didn’t hurt that he posted fantastic rookie numbers which included 58 receptions, 917 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His second season was even better as he tallied 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven more touchdowns.
He was the toast of the town, a social media darling, a man of the people. He took kids to proms, played video games and started balloon fights. It was amazing to see and to watch.
Too much? Many thought so. But that’s where the whole hating stuff comes into play. It also didn’t help that Smith-Schuster’s performance regressed last year after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2.
But I’m expecting big things from No. 19 in 2020. He’s the man. He’s a breath of fresh air. If he stays—and he might prove to be too good for the Steelers to keep—he’ll establish himself as an all-time Steelers great.
I love you, JuJu! Come to my apartment and sign my Terrible Towel. I’m only asking because you’re just the type that would do it!
No. 1: Ben Roethlisberger
Do I need to explain this? Do I need to tell you why No. 7 is number one in my heart? What would the Steelers legacy be today had they not drafted Roethlisberger with the 11th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft? Would they still be looking for their one for the thumb? Most likely. The great plays. The toughness. Roethlisberger has always been just big enough to flick off pass rushers and just elusive enough to make their life a living hell as he scrambles around and looks for open receivers downfield.
Despite his impressive stats, Roethlisberger has never been given the love he deserves when it comes to ranking the quarterbacks of his era or any era. Fine, but they’ll appreciate him when he’s gone.
It’s like what my mom tells me when I complain about work (or BTSC), they should kiss the ground Roethlisberger walks on!
You’re a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, Big Ben.
I love you, No. 7! Win a third ring for whichever finger you want to put it on. That’s rarefied air as far as quarterbacks are concerned. The haters couldn’t touch you then.