As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the 2022 NFL draft, there is a lot of focus on who they will be selecting throughout the three days. While these players are the ones expected to contribute the most throughout their career, sometimes it’s a player who wasn’t selected in the draft that can really make a difference in pushing a franchise to the next level
Knowing the importance of getting quality backups and special teams players beyond the draft, occasionally a superstar will emerge who didn’t get their name called from the stage to start their career. For this reason, let’s look at the top five players who went undrafted but began their careers with the Pittsburgh Steelers since the year 2000. To make the process easier, players are only considered for the list if their first NFL regular season game was for the Steelers, even if they were picked up by another franchise first but never saw game action.
Being that some of the Steelers’ players in the last few years still have a lot to prove, they may not make the list as they still have much of their story to write. But there is one exception.
5. Chris Boswell (2015-present)
Most of the kickers and punters who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers were undrafted players, but over the last 20 seasons Chris Boswell has been the star at either position. Making the Pro Bowl in 2017, Boswell has been the kicker for the Steelers for seven seasons and counting and has an 88.3% field goal accuracy rate during the regular season. As for the playoffs, Boswell is a perfect 16 for 16 in the postseason. If it weren’t for arguably the best kicker in the NFL being in Boswell’s same division, let alone conference, the Pro Bowl tally could possibly be even more.
4. Alejandro Villanueva (2015-2020)
Making his Pittsburgh Steelers regular season debut at the age of 27 in 2015, Alejandro Villanueva came to the NFL after serving three tours in Afghanistan and earning a Bronze Star. Although originally signed to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2014 preseason, Villanueva made the switch from defense to offense and spent a year on the Steelers practice squad before landing on the roster in 2015. Starting 96 consecutive games at left tackle for the Steelers including the postseason, Villanueva was selected to the Pro Bowl in both 2017 and 2018. After spending one season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, Villanueva retired from the NFL at the age of 33.
3. Willie Parker (2004-2009)
Undrafted out of North Carolina, Willie Parker made the Steelers roster in 2004 and appeared in eight games. In 2005, Parker became the Steelers starter after injuries to Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley left him as the best option to open the season. Not relinquishing the job for four seasons, Parker still has the record for the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history of 75 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Not only was Parker a two-time Super Bowl champion, he was also a Pro Bowler in 2006 and 2007. Rushing for more than 5,000 yards in his six years with the Steelers, Parker ultimately retired from football in 2012 after injuries slowed him down and kept him off rosters for two seasons.
2. Ramon Foster (2009-2019)
Despite never being selected to the Pro Bowl, Ramon foster surpasses others on this list by being a 10-year starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Undrafted out of Tennessee, Foster ultimately won a game-day helmet ahead of third-round draft pick Craig Urbik his rookie season. Taking over the starting job in Week 10 of 2010, Foster was a fixture on the Steelers offensive line for the next 10 seasons. While other undrafted free agents made a splash in a short amount of time for the Steelers, Foster was a key contributor on the line for a decade.
1. James Harrison (2002; 2004-12; 2014-2017)
Although it took some time to really break into the NFL, James Harrison made a huge difference with the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout his career. Undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, many felt Harrison was too short for linebacker and too light to play on the defensive line. Appearing in one game his rookie season, Harrison was on and off the Steelers practice squad and even landed in Baltimore for part of 2003. Harrison landed back in training camp with the Steelers in 2004 and made the roster after an injury to Clark Haggans. Bursting on to the scene in 2007, Harrison was selected to five straight Pro Bowls as well as two All-Pro selections in 2008 and 2010 along with being the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. Currently the Steelers franchise record holder in career sacks with 80.5, Harrison ultimately spent 14 years in Pittsburgh and had over 750 tackles. To top it all off, Harrison had arguably the most dynamic play in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown to end the half in Super Bowl XLIII.