Bob Labriola recently wrapped up his take on what constitutes the greatest players of the Pittsburgh Steelers’s free agency era, which began in 1992, assembling it in a series of articles called the All-Modern Team.
Needless to say, there is a slew of excellent players listed, including three Hall of Famers in Jerome Bettis, Dermontti Dawson, and Rod Woodson. It also features three recently retired players who have a fair shot of eventually making it into Canton: namely, Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, and Troy Polamalu.
There are many ways to parse this list, and many different themes that one might build from it, but the most interesting thing about this group of names to me—what stands out the most when I look at it—is the fact that it features seven currently active players.
A subset of that interesting facet is the fact that of those seven active players, five of them feature on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Antonio Brown, tight end Heath Miller, and center Maurkice Pouncey have all been deemed worthy of the starting lineup from this era in the team’s history.
The selection of Roethlisberger is of course a no brainer, as he is arguably the greatest quarterback in team history, and one of only two to bring home a championship in team history. He is rewriting the team’s record books, and even occasionally making league history.
Pouncey, meanwhile, may end up the most decorated lineman in team history at this pace. Failing the injury-riddled 2013 season, his five-year career has featured four Pro Bowls and four nods for the All-Pro team, on two of which he was listed first-team. And he is already under contract for another five years.
Brown is yet another player rewriting the team’s record books, setting new marks for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in a season. He also holds the longest streak in league history of games with at least five receptions for 50 yards. In 2010, he became the first player ever to record 1000 receiving yards and 1000 yards and returns in the same year.
Bell is only in his third season, but during his second year, he set the team’s new franchise record for yards from scrimmage, in addition to establishing a new high for receptions by a tight end with an astounding 83.
All four of these players have the capability of producing Hall of Fame-worthy careers. I would argue that Roethlisberger already has, while Pouncey is will on his way. Brown is establishing himself as the best receiver in his time, which many contend is the definition of a Hall of Fame player. Bell obviously has quite a long way to go, but his dual-threat abilities and desire for a long career set him on the right path.
Miller has never been the receiving numbers type of tight end that would ever garner Hall of Fame consideration, and tight end is a difficult position to be considered for induction in the first place. But he has been a very reliable performer over the course of his career.
The two defensive players on the list are Cameron Heyward, who is entering his prime, and James Harrison, who has Father Time in a half nelson for at least another season, it seems. That Heyward has made the list as a defensive end in an era with some high quality defensive ends, only four seasons into his career, is impressive.
Harrison, in the meantime, saw a period of about four years in which he was the best player at his position, including four straight All-Pro nods and a Defensive Player of the Year award. While that fits the parameters for consideration to the hall, the lack of longevity in his career as a starter makes it difficult to see him as a serious candidate, and he is slated to be a role player at this point in his career.