New series we’re kicking off to take us throughout the summer. We’ve written about the best players in franchise history and the most underrated on the current edition but we’ve never gone through the list of most underrated position-by-position. Not the best ones to ever wear a Pittsburgh Steelers’ uniform but ones who fans have – and shouldn’t – forgot.
Finishing up the offensive line with the most underrated center.
Jeff Hartings/C – 2001-2006
It’s hard to find an underrated center in Steelers’ lore. That’s the one position along the line the team is famous for. Mike Webster, Dirt Dawson, now Maurkice Pouncey. And I think people still remember Ray Mansfield, who was part of the first two Super Bowls of the 70s. So that’s nearly a top five group right there, spanning much of the team’s history.
Hartings played recently enough to still ring a bell in the mind of many fans but he’s an easy name to forget. The Steelers’ mid-2000s line is still led by Alan Faneca, who should be elected into the Hall of Fame next August. And Pouncey almost immediately replaced Hartings, capturing the headlines right away.
He was one of Kevin Colbert’s first free agents signing. And still one of his best, though even that’s arguably been forgotten over time. Hartings, a Penn State alum, was the 23rd overall pick of the 1996 draft, scooped up by the Lions. Colbert was familiar with him and is the reason why so many names we’ve profiled or mentioned came from Detroit; he served as the director of scouting for a decade there. Charlie Batch, Clint Kriewaldt, Chidi Iwuoma, all ex-Lions.
Colbert and the Steelers signed him for the 2001 season, plopped him in at center, and basically could forget about it. He started all 16 games four of his six seasons in the Burgh and in another, started 14. He was part of the smashmouth Steelers’ line, standing with Faneca, Max Starks, and Marvel Smith.
Jerome Bettis – and then Willie Parker – enjoyed huge lanes behind that line. In 2004, Hartings made a Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team, alongside Faneca, and Smith went to Hawaii. Three linemen getting those honors in the same season is awfully rare.
His career ended after 2006, a wonderful 11 year career. I feel the further Pouncey’s career advances, and he may hit Hall of Fame candidacy someday, the easier it will be to forget about Hartings. In another franchise, he may have been a top two name. In Pittsburgh, he isn’t sniffing the podium. That doesn’t change how good of a center he was. And it sure makes him underrated.
All Underrated Team
QB – Bobby Layne
RB – John Henry Johnson
FB – Dan Kreider
TE – Eric Green
WR – Ron Shanklin
WR – Roy Jefferson
OT – John Jackson
OT – Frank Varrichione
OG – Ramon Foster
OG – Bruce Van Dyke
C- Jeff Hartings