Monday morning, Sports Illustrated released their list of the greatest undrafted players in NFL history. Just one Steeler made the list, but he was a well-deserving inclusion. Rick Gosselin named James Harrison one of the two best UDFA outside linebackers in history. He included this bio blurb next to Harrison’s name.
“OLB James Harrison, 2002 (15, 193) 5 Pro Bowls, 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Scored the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history in 2009 on a 100-yard interception of a Kurt Warner pass.”
No franchise picked Harrison out of Kent State in the 2002 NFL Draft. He had a great career with the Golden Flashes and eventually had his #16 retired by the school. I found an old clip of him forcing a fumble on Iowa RB Ladell Betts in 2001, which he also recovered.
Pittsburgh signed — and cut — Harrison several times before he stuck. His journey also included stints with the Baltimore Ravens and Rhein Fire of NFL Europe fame.
Harrison finally began to stick in 2004, starting four games (his first one because Joey Porter got ejected pre-game for fighting Browns’ RB William Green) and recovering a fumble for a touchdown in the Week 17 finale over Buffalo. It wasn’t until 2007 when he became a full-time starter, but he developed into one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers. From ’07 to 2011, Harrison made five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams thanks to his 54 combined sacks and 27 forced fumbles. At their best, Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were the top EDGE rush duo in football.
He made the iconic defensive play in the Steelers’ Super Bowl win over the Cardinals, picking Kurt Warner off in the end zone and racing 100 yards the other way for the score to end the first half. He finished his Steelers’ career as the franchise’s all-time official sack leader with 80.5. His NFL career ended with 84.5 of them after stints with the Bengals and Patriots.
Harrison was the only undrafted Steeler to make the list. Donnie Shell would’ve been a strong candidate but he lost out to Emlen Tunnell and Cliff Harris. Tunnell was a no-brainer but Shell had more starts, interceptions, the same number of All-Pro teams, and two more Super Bowl rings than Harris. That should’ve given him the nod.
The outside linebacker chosen opposite of Harrison was the Ravens’ Bart Scott. Which I think sums up the Steelers/Ravens mid-2000s rivalry as well as anything. Other notable UDFAs to make the list included QB Kurt Warner, WR Wes Welker, and DT John Randle.