When it comes to the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers at running back, it’s a pretty darn prestigious position, right up there with wide receiver and linebacker historically.
Of course, the Steelers have five running backs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making for a lucrative position overall in team history thanks to the likes of Bill Dudley, John McNally, John Henry Johnson, Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis.
Outside of the five Hall of Famers though, the history remains rich at the position, which made deciding who would be the Steelers’ running back on my all-time team made up of non-Hall of Famers rather difficult.
In the end, I narrowed the decision down to the likes of Barry Foster, Le’Veon Bell, and Willie Parker, all three of whom certainly had a legitimate argument to earn a spot on my all-time Steelers’ team made up of non-Hall of Famers at the running back position.
Why those three? Well, all three sit inside the top 10 in Steelers’ history in rushing yards in franchise history. Parker leads the way in that category with 5,378 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns as a Steelers, coming in at No. 3 all-time in Steelers’ history. Bell follows right behind Parker with 5,336 yards and 35 yards on the ground to place fourth, while Foster sits No. 8 overall with 3,943 yards and 26 touchdowns.
All three also earned multiple Pro Bowl berths with the Steelers, two of the three (Bell and Foster) earned multiple All-Pro honors, while Foster finished as the NFL MVP runner-up in 1992 behind San Francisco’s Steve Young.
Before we get into the discussion regarding the RB on my non-Hall of Famer Steelers’ all-time team, here’s a reminder of the team outlook and the selection to date:
Offensively, I will set it up using 11 personnel, meaning one running back, one tight end, no fullback, and three wide receivers, mainly because I would want to see this group play in today’s game.
Defensively, I’m using the traditional 3-4 scheme, so no slot cornerback or anything like that. Just a base 3-4. I’ll also select a kicker, punter, and return specialist, giving me 25 players to write about.
Selections made so far:
QB — Kordell Stewart
In the end, I went with a controversial figure in Steelers’ history, selecting Bell for my all-time non-Hall of Famer team.
Bell was a phenomenal runner, one that thrived with his patient approach behind a great offensive line and helped the Steelers’ Killer B offenses have some serious balance overall.
Though his time in Pittsburgh came to a quick, disappointing end due to a silly contract dispute that he’s still paying for to this day now that he’s out of the league, Bell was simply astonishing in five seasons with the Steelers, twice earning Offensive Player of the Year votes, earning two First Team All-Pro honors and one Second Team All-Pro honor, while also earning Comeback Player of the Year votes and three trips to the Pro Bowl during his five seasons in the Steel City.
In three of those five seasons when healthy, Bell easily eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards gaining 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014, 1,268 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 2016, and then 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017, which happened to be his final season in Pittsburgh.
Not only was Bell as fantastic running back with the football on the ground, he was a game-changer as a receiver out of the backfield, finishing his career in Pittsburgh with 312 receptions for 2,660 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging roughly 63 catches, 532 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per season through the air. IN his two best seasons in Pittsburgh (2014 and 2017), Bell hauled in 83 and 85 receptions for 854 and 655 yards respectively, and hauled in five touchdowns combined those two years.
His playoff performance in 2017 against the Jacksonville Jaguars was a thing of beauty, one that will hold up well in Steelers’ playoff history even though the playoff loss was deflating.
In that playoff game, Bell rushed for 67 yards and a score on just 16 touches but added nine receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown, which was one of the best catches of his career coming out of the backfield.
He truly was a game-changer at the height of his powers in Pittsburgh, so it remains a shame that he ended up trying to become a contractual martyr of sorts for the running back position, ultimately sitting out an entire season and then taking a smaller deal with the New York Jets ahead of the 2019 season.
Since then, Bell has barely eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in the three seasons since, and currently finds himself out of the NFL after 17 games with the Jets, nine games with the Kansas City Chiefs, five games with the Baltimore Ravens and three games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.