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2016 Steelers success hinges on a number of undrafted contributors

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There are more undrafted players on NFL rosters now than ever before, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been making the most of finding these previously unwanted athletes.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first four weeks of the season, the Steelers are 3-1, following a 2-0 start for the first time since 2010; the fourth such start under head coach Mike Tomlin (2007, 2008, 2010 and 2016).

In 2 of those 3 previous 2-0 starts, the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl. In one of those Super Bowl appearances, a win in 2008 against the Cardinals, the Steelers hitched their wagon to an undrafted running back from North Carolina: Willie Parker.

In the following years, the Steelers continued to stockpile undrafted and street free agents; castaways no longer wanted from other teams. The Steelers staff has assembled quite the list of undrafted players throughout the years, taking another NFL franchise's trash and turning it into treasure.

Here is a list of those undrafted players (minus a few incomplete grades, such as Steven Johnson) on the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 roster:

Eli Rogers

In his second year, the undrafted product from Louisville has found a home as the starting slot wide receiver in a crowded Steelers offense.

Rogers has been targeted 15 times this season, catching 9 of those passes for 100 yards, including a ping-pong touchdown in the season opener.

Rogers has also been a first down converting contributor, having moved the chains thrice on 3rd down and once on a 4th down conversion this season.

Currently nursing a toe injury, it will be interesting to see how Rogers fits into the Steelers offensive plans when he returns.

Alejandro Villanueva

"Big Al" is the Steelers starting left tackle, having filled in for the once-stellar Kelvin Beachum, when the latter went down with a season-ending injury in 2015.

The former Army Ranger played 4 positions in college, and is a mountain of a man: he put on additional weight after being signed to the Steelers practice squad, following a failed stint with the Eagles as a defensive end. He is the main blindside protector to QB Ben Roethlisberger and an integral key to the Steelers offensive line.

Ramon Foster

The long-time left guard is a Pittsburgh favorite, who initially made the team back in 2009 as an undrafted prospect out of Tennessee.

Though he missed the Kansas City game, the 8 year veteran is durable: he has dressed for 105 games, starting 90 of them, and appears to be on track to return this week against the Jets.

B.J. Finney

Stepping in for the injured Foster in two games thus far, Finney went from a protected practice squad player to starter overnight, earning the best grades among the Steelers offensive lineman two weeks in a row from Pro Football Focus.

That statement almost sounds like an understatement, until you consider he graded better than Pro Bowl lineman such as David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, and the ever-consistent Marcus Gilbert.

For those wondering why the Steelers gave a practice squad player a raise late last season, it appears the coaching staff knew something the rest of us had not: Finney is a solid backup capable of stepping in as a starter.

Xavier Grimble

After bouncing around from 3 different team's practice squads (including two campaigns with the 49ers) Grimble caught on with the Steelers, nearly out of necessity, when Ladarius Green was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season.

Grimble caught his first pass, in a heated game against the Bengals, which also turned into his first career touchdown; the tight end made an incredibly athletic play following an equally acrobatic catch.

Though he's not a target monster (6 targets) all 3 of his receptions have been big: the single touchdown, and 2 more chain-moving, first down catches. One of those was in the same Bengals contest, a 6 yard snag on 3rd and 1, which extended the drive that ended two plays later with a Jesse James touchdown reception. (That in-between play you ask? The Sammie Coates 53 yard catch.)

Fitzgerald Toussaint

Maybe best remembered for the wrong reason (a fumble in the playoff game against Denver last season) Fitz has been a solid acquisition who nearly became the stuff of legend, after rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown in two playoff games, after the Steelers were already thin at running back (having lost Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams prior to the postseason.)

Toussaint also made athletic catches, with 7 receptions for 62 yards in those pair of games.

Perhaps this is why Toussaint was retained on the active roster in favor over Daryl Richardson, when Bell was activated last week. While Fitz has been seldom used thus far in 2016, he offers quality depth and versatility should disaster strike again.

Roosevelt Nix

Another conversion project, this former college defensive lineman turned into a fullback last year, and paved the way for Bell's game-winning TD against the Chargers in 2015.

Limited thus far with a back injury, Nix is another underdog on this long list who can be a solid contributor to the Steelers offense, as a stout blocker in the run and passing games.

On special teams, Nix is a solid tackler who also forced a fumble last season against the Oakland Raiders.

Robert Golden

Another longtime special teams contributor, Golden worked his way up to a special teams captain, then into major playing time at safety. He was rewarded with a 3 year contract extension this offseason and has become Troy Polamalu's replacement alongside fellow safety Mike Mitchell.

Who would've predicted that?

Jordan Dangerfield

Speaking of predictions: had someone told me that Jordan Dangerfield not only makes the active roster in 2016, but starts a game, I would've looked at you sideways (like an owl!)

If you told me Dangerfield would limit an opponent to a lone catch, thrown his way, and that reception was only good for 3 yards... that's crazy talk.

PFF rated Dangerfield among the top 5 Steelers defenders for the Kansas City game, and rightfully so: his blitz early in the game hurried Alex Smith into the now memorable Cameron Heyward tipped pass, that landed in Jarvis Jones' hands for an interception.

If that's all Dangerfield gets to do this season, it will still be remembered as a gamechanging performance at safety, in the least likely of situations.

Jordan Berry

An undrafted punter out of Eastern Kentucky, Berry not only won his job in 2015 over the incumbent Brad Wing (who was traded to the Giants for a draft pick) he also forced the Steelers hand in releasing his camp competition, Will Monday, during the initial round of cuts to 75 this preseason.

Berry's booming leg has been on display early in 2016, with a 63 yard long, and an average of 47.8 yards per punt, on 16 attempts.

I extensively wrote about Berry's 2015 season in another article, and his statistics continue to climb this season: 5 of Berry's 8 punts against the Bengals trapped the opponent at their own 10 or less, while he trapped the Chiefs inside their own 20 with 2 punts last Sunday.

He is a field flipping weapon who's contributions cannot be ignored thus far.

Chris Boswell

Special teamers dominate this list, and there's none more special than Chris Boswell.

In his 2nd season with the Steelers, it took Boswell to find a home in the NFL, but he was welcomed in the Steel City after previous kicker Josh Scobee missed critical field goals, which arguably cost the Steelers at least one, if not two chances at victory last season.

Boswell made 31 of his 34 attempts in 2015, with all 3 misses between the 40-49 range.

Thus far his is a perfect 3-for-3 from the same range this season.

Greg Warren

The long-time Steelers long snapper is an often overlooked veteran whose steady play has aided kickers for over a decade.

Warren is one of 4 Steelers remaining from the Super Bowl winning teams in Super Bowl XL or Super Bowl XLIII: Warren, Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Timmons and also undrafted teammate…

James Harrison

Perhaps the most famous undrafted name in Steelers history will go down as one of the franchise's greatest defenders as well.

And that was before he "retired."

At 38 years of age, Harrison continues to defy Father Time, forcing a turnover in each of the Steelers games this year.

Most notably, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2008) also holds the longest interception in Super Bowl history (100 yards) which doubles as the longest defensive play in Super Bowl history as well.

Harrison was responsible for two turnovers in Pittsburgh's first two games this season.

Not too bad for a player that wasn't worth a draft pick!

Joe is the founder of Steel City Underground, a Pittsburgh Steelers blog and podcast. Follow SCU on Facebook and Twitter.