Another day, another installment of Pro Football Focus’ Top 101 Players of the 2010s List. As I wrote about yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers were represented by four players between picks 101-76, with Cameron Heyward, James Harrison, Le’Veon Bell, and Emmanuel Sanders checking in—though Sanders- inclusion was based primarily on what he did after he left.
The site posted the second installment yesterday, getting up to 51, and this time, only one more former Steelers player made the cut, but it’s a big one. Troy Polamalu checked in on the list at 63, which may sound bad when you first think about it. But it’s important to remember that Polamalu only played through the first five seasons of the 2010s. Half the decade was missing from his resume, yet he was still ranked as high as he was. I doubt there will be many players ahead of him who played fewer than six seasons, especially at the end of their career.
Polamalu hasn’t played since 2014, but he was right in the middle of his prime at the start of the decade. He was the epitome of a game-changing safety who could line up all over the field, play the run, rush the passer, drop into coverage and disguise his intentions as late as possible with an incredible feel for where he needed to be. Polamalu ranked ninth in the NFL in PFF grade in 2010 before ranking first in 2011, 10th in 2012 and seventh in 2013 before tapering off in his final season in 2014. Few safeties could impact the game at all levels of the field like Polamalu, making him a unique Hall of Fame-caliber player who was still among the league’s best at the start of the 2010s.
Despite Polamalu ‘only’ ranking ninth in PFF’s very important grades, he earned not just Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors, but Defensive Player of the Year recognition as he helped the Steelers advance to the Super Bowl. Not a bad way to start off the decade, with seven interceptions.
The 2011 season was the final time he would make the first-team All-Pro list. He posted 91 tackles that year, though he only managed two interceptions in spite of the fact that he played in all 16 games. He also had a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.
In all, over five seasons, Polamalu registered 318 tackles, including 26 for a loss, with five sacks, 12 interceptions, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns during the decade, along with 40 passes defensed.
He also missed 15 games during that span due to injuries, so essentially, those are the numbers that he put up over the equivalent of a four-year span. He made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. Between 2004 and 2013, the only times he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, including in 2012, were the years in which he missed more than half the season.