It’s the offseason and there’s not much happening in the NFL world. In fact, as we like to say around these parts, the only news is bad news. That can take the form of player injuries, arrests, suspensions, etc. But since it’s the offseason and there isn’t much going on, we figured we’d have some fun. There have been some lists floating around on Twitter of “Who was this team’s best non-QB player this century?” While the SCB crew was debating that question, we wound up with a list of our Top 50 Steelers of the century.
The one prerequisite to this list is that the player had to play at least three seasons with the Steelers since the year 2000. So that means that recent additions like Najee Harris and Kenny Pickett are not eligible, along with one-year wonders like Flozell Adams. Since the Steelers Hall of Honor also uses the three-year timeframe as a guide for elections, we also thought it was a good parameter. You could also look at this list as our power rankings of players worthiness to be in the Hall of Honor.
Yesterday we went through some Honorable Mentions as well as #50-41 on the list. Today we’ll tackle the next 10 entries, counting down from #40 to #31.
40. Ryan Shazier
Shazier was an uber-athletic linebacker and quickly developed a reputation as a play-maker. His playing style was fast and aggressive with active hands and was known for slashing in against the run to make plays in the backfield. Over his career he racked up 9 interceptions, 7 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, and 27 TFLs. He appeared in 6 playoff games and came up with one of the biggest plays in recent memory, stripping Jeremy Hill as Cincinnati was trying to run out the clock to give a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger a chance to win the game. Tragically, his football career was cut short after the spinal injury he suffered in 2017 and Shazier has gone on to do some great work in his post-football life. In his 4 years with the Steelers, he made the Pro Bowl twice and was the key play-maker in the middle of the defense.
39. JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu’s Steelers career was a roller coaster ride. In his first two years he had over 2300 receiving yards and made a Pro Bowl. On the field, he is responsible for the two longest offensive touchdowns in Steelers history – 97-yarders against the Broncos and Lions. He also has two of the biggest plays that will go unremembered because of what followed. In 2017 after the Patriots took the lead with a minute left, JuJu took a crossing route and turned it upfield for a 69-yard gain to give the Steelers life inside the 10 yard line. We won’t talk about what happened next. The following year against the Raiders, he gave the Steelers a chance after the Raiders kicked a field goal with 20 seconds left. JuJu took a hook-and-ladder for 43 yards to give Boswell a shot at a game-tying field goal (which got blocked). JuJu battled through injuries and inconsistent QB play (along with some very costly fumbles) over his last three years in Pittsburgh. He also caught flak off the field for social media postings and lifestyle. But his Steelers career ended in quintessential JuJu fashion, with him toughing it out to return from injury to play one last game in black and gold. JuJu would go on to join the Chiefs in free agency and win a Super Bowl ring last season.
38. Plaxico Burress
Burress was the Steelers first round pick in 2020, a tall, lanky receiver with deep speed from Michigan State who they took in the Top 10 to boost their passing attack. While he didn’t have much impact as a rookie (other than infamously spiking the ball after a first down which was ruled a fumble because he was not down by contact), Burress put up back-to-back 1000-yard seasons in 2001 and 2002. After Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004, Burress formed a strong connection as Ben’s favorite deep threat. Like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Burress left after five seasons in Pittsburgh and won a Super Bowl ring elsewhere (his was with New York). He did return to Pittsburgh for a very brief stint in 2012 to end his career where he caught one last touchdown pass from Ben in the season finale against the Browns. All told, Burress played 75 games for the Steelers and accumulated over 4200 yards and 23 TDs.
37. Marcus Gilbert
Gilbert was a second-round pick out of Florida that the Steelers took in the same draft as Cam Heyward. When healthy, he was a very solid right tackle for the Steelers. He was thrust into the starting lineup almost immediately when Willie Colon tore his triceps in the season-opener. Interestingly, Gilbert won the Steelers Joe Greene Rookie of the Year award in 2011 over Cam Heyward. The highlights of his career were shutting down Von Miller on multiple occasions. Gilbert and David DeCastro made for a formidable right side of the Steelers line for Le’Veon Bell to run behind. He spent 8 years in Pittsburgh but only played in all 16 games twice. Over the last two years he played in just 12 games total. The Steelers traded Gilbert to the Cardinals for a 6th round pick in 2019 but due to injuries he never actually played a game for Arizona.
36. Chris Boswell
Boswell was brought in as a free agent midway through the 2015 season, the Steelers fourth kicker of the year, and immediately staked his claim to the job. He converted 90% of his kicks the first year and has been one of the most efficient kickers in Steelers history. Boswell only has one Pro Bowl (2017) but part of that has to do with the fact he kicks in the same conference as Justin Tucker. Of players to attempt at least 20 field goals in Steelers history, only Shaun Suisham has a better kicking percentage than Boswell (86.3%). The Wizard of Boz needs just 3 more field goals to surpass Jeff Reed for second on the Steelers all-time list of field goals made. Boswell has been a much better long-distance kicker than Reed and is 24 for 30 from beyond 50 yards. He has also come up big in clutch moments. In his career, Boswell is 14 for 14 on potential game-winning kicks in the last 2 minutes of regulation.
35. Mike Wallace
A third round pick out of Ole Miss in 2009, Wallace was renowned for his deep speed. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, leading the league with 19.4 yards per reception. Memorably, he snagged a game-winning walk-off touchdown in the corner of the end zone to help the Steelers top the Packers 37-36. His sophomore season, after Santonio Holmes was traded to the Jets, was the best of his career as he put up 1257 yards and 10 TDs, averaging 21 yards per catch. Wallace’s deep speed was a key part of the Steelers offensive attack that won the AFC Championship and took the team back to the Super Bowl. He would go on to make his only Pro Bowl the following year, which led to a contract dispute with the Steelers. He held out of training camp in 2012 but returned for a rocky regular season. Wallace departed in free agency after 4 seasons in Pittsburgh where he put up over 4000 receiving yards and 32 TDs. He is still remembered as a true home run big play threat and was one of the best receivers the Steelers have had this century in tracking deep balls through the air.
34. Vince Williams
As a 6th round pick out of Florida State, Williams carved out an 8-year NFL career. He earned a roster spot as a rookie and eventually started 11 games after starting linebacker Larry Foote tore his bicep. Following the selection of Ryan Shazier in the 2014 Draft, Williams returned to a backup role but was still a strong contributor on Special Teams. After Lawrence Timmons departed in 2017, Williams stepped back into the starting role permanently, which he would hold for four straight seasons. He was a hard-hitting downhill linebacker who was incredibly durable and stout against the run. He also made a name for himself as an A-gap blitzer, recording 20.5 career sacks, 50 tackles for loss, and 45 QB hits. In 2017 he had a career-best 8 sacks. Williams was a throw-back player in the quintessential Steeler mold of a hard-nosed defender who played with an edge and never quit.
33. Ryan Clark
Clark joined the Steelers in 2006 after starting his career with the Giants and Redskins. He was brought in via free agency to replace Chris Hope and formed an immediate partnership with Troy Polamalu on the back end of the Steelers defense. While Clark played in the free safety role, he was a heavy hitter and delivered some punishing blows on backs and receivers over the middle of the field. (I still shudder thinking about the smack he laid on Willis McGahee in the AFC Championship Game. Clark’s penchant for laying guys out did occasionally lead him to watching opposing players rather than the ball and he likely could have had more than 12 interceptions in 8 years if he had played the ball instead of the man. Nevertheless, he was an incredibly durable player, appearing in 117 total games over 8 seasons and was part of the Super Bowl XLIII Championship defense as well as the 2010 team that won the AFC Championship. Clark had a sickle-cell trait that nearly cost him his life after a game in Denver but he was thankfully able to recover. Late in his career he was a tackling machine with over 100 tackles in each of his final three seasons in Pittsburgh, including the 2011 year where he was elected to the Pro Bowl.
32. Marvel Smith
Smith was the Steelers second round pick in 2000. He stepped into the starting role halfway through his rookie season at right tackle. He held down that position for the next two seasons before moving to left tackle in 2003. After an injury-shortened season, he was Ben’s blindside protector during the 2004 run to the AFC Championship. That season’s success propelled Smith to the Pro Bowl. The following year he was part of the line that paved the way for Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, winning Super Bowl XL. He would continue to hold down the left end of the Steelers line until lingering back injuries cut short his 2007 season and allowed him to play just 5 games in 2008. He was placed on injured reserve and did not play during the Steelers run to Super Bowl XLIII. All in all, Smith was a stout offensive tackle who was a key part of the line throughout the 2000s. Smith played 121 total games with the Steelers over 9 seasons.
31. Larry Foote
Larry Foote was a mid-round pick out of Michigan who started his career on special teams and backing up Kendrell Bell on the inside of the defense. When Bell suffered a knee injury prior to the 2004 season, Foote stepped into a starting role next to James Farrior. The two developed a solid rapport and were a key part of a stout Steelers run defense. Foote would start all 16 games for the next 5 seasons in Pittsburgh. In the 2005 Super Bowl campaign, Foote registered 102 tackles and 3 sacks in the regular season then 24 more tackles in the postseason. But his biggest play came in the AFC Championship when he intercepted Jake Plummer at the start of the fourth quarter to prevent the Broncos from mounting a comeback. Foote split time with Lawrence Timmons during the 2008 Super Bowl run and in 2009 left in free agency for Detroit, but returned after just one year away. He would play four more seasons for the Steelers and was a backup on the 2010 team that went to Super Bowl XLV. His career-best season came in 2012 when he started all 16 games, amassed 113 tackles, had 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. In total, Foote spent 11 years in Pittsburgh and was part of three conference championship squads and won two Super Bowls.