Today we continue our All-Modern-Era Steelers team with the defensive side of the ball. This one was a little harder to choose than the offense. Check those picks out here. Again, these are Steelers that contributed after 1992.
DE: Aaron Smith (1999-2011)
1X Pro Bowler; 2X Superbowl Champ
It’s really a shame Aaron Smith only made 1 pro bowl. Despite that, he was named to Sports Illustrated’s 2000’s all decade team. Smith was one of the best players in the NFL that nobody outside Pittsburgh could name during his career. If Dick Lebeau had to create a DE in a lab to do what he wanted in his 3-4 scheme to perfection, Aaron Smith would’ve been that guy.
NT: Casey Hampton (2001-2012)
5X Pro Bowler; 2X Superbowl Champ
“Big Snack” like Smith, is the prototype for what you want in the scheme the Steelers ran. There’s been plenty of big nose tackles that are hard to move, but what made Hampton so special was his unique athleticism for a man his size. While Hampton rarely put pressure on the quarterback; his penetration on the line freed up the great linebackers behind him to be great. The Steelers run defense just hasn’t been the same since Casey retired.
DE: Brett Keisel (2002-2014)
1X Pro Bowler; 2X Superbowl Champ
For much of Keisel’s early career he was a rotational guy that beat the odds and became a solid contributor despite being a 7th round pick, and Steeler nation was happy with that. Keisel just continued to get better and better and was one of the team’s best defensive players despite being well into his 30’s. Keisel had a unique build for a 3-4 end, and even played some linebacker in a pinch. “The beard” was a fan favorite that will never be forgotten by Steeler nation.
OLB: James Harrison (2002-2003, 2004-2012, 2014-present)
5X Pro Bowler, 2X First Team All-Pro; 2X Second Team All-Pro; 2008 DPOY; 2X Superbowl Champ;
James Harrison was a late bloomer, but at his peak I think he might be the most dominant edge rusher in Steelers history. James is the last surviving defender from the teams that won 2 Superbowls. “Deebo” probably falls short of the Hall of Fame, but he played at Hall of Fame level for several years.
ILB: Greg Lloyd (1988-1997)
5X Pro Bowler; 3X First-Team All-Pro
The Steelers have had some scary linebackers over the years, but none scarier than Greg Lloyd. James Harrison is the Steelers’ most recent “us against the world (the league)” linebacker with a scary disposition, but Greg Lloyd was the original. Watching these two play together would be something to see.
ILB: James Farrior (2002-2011)
2X Pro Bowler; 2X First-Team All-Pro; 2X Superbowl Champ
James Farrior might be the best free agent signing in Steelers’ history. James started his career with high expectations with the Jets, and was labeled a bust following his rookie contract. Earl Holmes once strung the Steelers along and tried to leverage the Steelers and Browns against one another for his services, which caused and angry Dan Rooney to yell “call the other guy!” That “other guy” happened to be James Farrior, who would go on to be the quarterback of the defense for 2 championship teams.
OLB: Jason Gildon (1994-2003)
3X Pro Bowler; 1X First-Team All-Pro
Jason Gildon gets somewhat overlooked in Steelers history, but for all the great pass rushers to wear the black and gold, Gildon has more sacks than any of them. Gildon was a great player, but probably suffers from the fact that he was at his peak in between the ’95 Superbowl team and the ’05 Superbowl team.
CB: Rod Woodson (1987-1996)
11X Pro Bowler; 5X First Team All Pro; 2X Second Team All Pro; 1993 DPOY
Woodson played more years under Chuck Noll than Bill Cowher so he’s questionable for the post-1992 list… but he still was a very good player after 1992 (winning the defensive player of the year award in 1993) and was on the Superbowl team despite not playing that entire season because of injury. Woodson might be the best Steelers player outside of the 70’s teams.
CB: Ike Taylor (2003-2014)
2X Superbowl Champ
Ike Taylor might be one of the most underrated Steelers in history. Ike had years where he shut down #1 receivers as well as any cover man in the league, but his hands of stone kept him out of the conversation as one of the best corners in the league. Ike was extremely loyal to his teammates and the Steelers franchise, forming a close bond with Dan Rooney while he was with the team.
FS: Troy Polamalu (2003-2014)
8X Pro Bowler; 5X First Team All Pro; 2010 DPOY; 2X Superbowl Champ
I’m listing Troy as the free safety of this team, instead of his normal strong safety spot, because he’s more of a center fielder than Lake. Troy was a unique hybrid between the old-school run thumping safeties and the new-school ball hawks. I recently named Troy to my Steelers Mount Rushmore.
SS: Carnell Lake (1989-1998)
5X Pro Bowler; 1X First Team All Pro
There was a little bit of debate here internally whether people would prefer Ryan Clark to be named to this team. I think that Ryan Clark was a very good player, but Lake was better. Ryan Clark was never close to being an all-pro type of player, which Lake achieved one year. Carnell Lake helped the team