New series we’re kicking off on Steelers Depot. Recently, we relayed Sports Illustrated’s list of the all-time undrafted team, one that included James Harrison. And it got me to thinking — what would the all-Steelers’ list look like? A franchise that’s been around since 1933 and littered with household names who began their career undrafted.
Also, I really wanted to put Donnie Shell on this list after SI snubbed him. So spoiler alert, he’s going to be on here.
As criteria for this article, I only considered players who signed with Pittsburgh as UDFAs. Meaning, a first-year UDFA who spent time with another club and then came over to Pittsburgh wouldn’t qualify. These will be players from 1936, year of the first NFL draft, to present day.
We’ll take this position-by-position. I finish the secondary today with safeties.
Donnie Shell (1974-1987)
Shell is about 90% of the reason why I started this series, considering how badly he was snubbed in that aforementioned list. Shell is the greatest undrafted player in team history and the cherry on top of the greatest draft class professional football has ever seen.
Undrafted out of South Carolina State in 1974, he bided his time the first three years. It was worth the wait. He became the Steelers’ starter in 1977, picking off three passes that year. Shell was part of the team’s final two Super Bowl wins in 1978 and 1979. In the ’78 run, he recovered a fumble in a playoff win over the Broncos and picked off Oilers’ QB Dan Pastorini a week later, an easy 34-5 Steelers’ win.
Shell would go on to become one of the last members of the 70s dynasty, playing until 1987. He was durable and consistent, picking off at least three passes in his first 10 years as Steelers’ starter, 1977 to 1986. Spending his entire career in Pittsburgh, he picked off 51 passes, returning two for touchdowns. His 201 games played and 162 starts are by far the most of any undrafted player in franchise history. They ran in the top five and top 10 of any Steeler, drafted or not, ever.
Shell was named to five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020. He’ll be enshrined in August.
Glen Edwards (1971-1977)
Why did it take Shell so long to start? This guy, Glen Edwards. He rose from UDFA out of Florida A&M to become the Steelers’ starting safety for their first pair of Super Bowls, 1974 and 1975. Edwards became the starter in 1973, making his presence known with six interceptions, tied second-most on the team behind Mike Wagner. He followed that up with five in 1974.
Edwards came up large in playoff games, intercepting three passes in 12 postseason appearances. One of those came in the Super Bowl, the team’s first win over Dallas.
He’d be traded to the San Diego Chargers after the 1977 season for a sixth round pick. He would rack up another 14 picks in his four years with his new team.
His NFL career ended with 39 career picks. 25 of those came as a Steeler. It’s the third-most interceptions of a Steelers UDFA only behind Shell and CB Jack Butler.
Honorable Mention: Robert Golden (2012-2017)
Golden definitely isn’t in the same place as Shell and Edwards. But he carved out a solid six-year career with Pittsburgh. Undrafted out of Arizona, he made the team as a rookie. His first three years were spent as a quality special-teamer. The Steelers attempted to expand his role some, he made 12 starts across 2015-2017, but his steady tackling wasn’t enough to overcome his lack of big plays.
Still, he appeared in 92 games for the black and gold, recording 126 total tackles.
STEELERS’ ALL-UNDRAFTED TEAM
Quarterback: Devlin Hodges
Running Back: Willie Parker
Fullback: Dan Kreider
Wide Receivers: Dwight Stone, Nate Washington
Tight End: Randy Grossman
Offensive Tackles: Jack Wiley, Pete Rostosky
Offensive Guards: Sam Davis, Ramon Foster
Center: Jim Clack
Nose Tackle: Steve McLendon
Defensive End: John Banaszak, Keith Willis
Outside Linebackers: James Harrison, John Reger
Inside Linebackers: Darrell Hogan, Frank Sinkovitz
Cornerbacks: Jack Butler, Willie Daniel