Remember when the Steelers’ defensive starters averaged 30 years of age?
That was 2010. Two of those starters remain: cornerback William Gay, who was one of the five who had not yet reached 30. The other is ageless linebacker James Harrison. Of the 11 defensive starters that year, six were 30 or older.
Fast forward to 2017, and the Steelers have seven players — starter or otherwise — who are 30 or older. The average age across the entire team is 25.5, though that number will surely go up some when the roster is trimmed from 90 to 53. Still, it’s no secret they’ve gotten younger in the intervening years. But there are other statistics among this roster that are equally interesting.
Loyalty Is Still Big in Pittsburgh
Of the 48 players currently on the roster who were selected in the NFL Draft, 35 were drafted by the Steelers. Two — Gay, and tight end David Johnson — left the team and returned. Sixty-two players were drafted or originally acquired by the Steelers, 33 of whom have at least one full year with the team. Twenty of those 62 players have been with the team for at least three years.
The Steelers have 42 players on their roster who arrived in the NFL as undrafted free agents. Of those 42 players, more than half — 23 — signed their first NFL contracts with the Steelers. Nine of them have been with the team for at least a year already, and eight of those have started at least one game. Among those nine are four current or long-time starters: linebacker James Harrison, guard Ramon Foster, fullback Roosevelt Nix and punter Jordan Berry.
Ironically, the two highest-drafted players on the Pittsburgh roster right now were not drafted by the Steelers: receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, originally drafted number seven overall by the Raiders in 2009; and Tyson Alualu, who was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 10th overall pick in 2011. The two, combined, will cost the Steelers less than $4 million in 2017, despite their pedigrees.
Diamonds in the Rough
Of the Steelers’ 25 presumed, opening-day starters (not including kick and punt returners), 13 were drafted by the Steelers in the first four rounds. That means 12 of 25 -- 44 percent of all starters — were acquired via other means. Cornerback Ross Cockrell was selected by the Buffalo Bills and later acquired by the Steelers after being released by Buffalo, and safety Mike Mitchell joined the team as a free agent when his rookie contract with the Carolina Panthers expired. All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, tight end Jesse James, linebacker Vince Williams and long snapper Colin Holba were drafted after round four. Harrison, Foster, Berry and Nix were chosen by the Steelers as undrafted free agents, while kicker Chris Boswell and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva were picked up as journeyman free agents.
Equal Opportunity Employer
Despite the roster getting considerably younger since 2011, it’s not entirely made up of youngsters. Consider this: when the oldest player on the roster, James Harrison, was born on May 4, 1978, the Steelers had only collected two of their record six Super Bowl victories, Hall-of-Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw was in his prime and Chuck Noll had completed the ninth of his 23 years as the team’s head coach. When guard Christian Brown, the youngest player on the team, was born on February 6, 1997, the Steelers were 4-1 in the Super Bowl, current Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a few months away from starting high school and Bill Cowher was already a five-year veteran as head coach. The age difference between the two is nearly 19 years.