An NFL career spanning 15 seasons with the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers in which he ammassed 1,440 tackles, 98 tackles for loss, 35.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 18 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, and 69 passes defensed, all while playing in 230 career games with 197 career starts should not be considered underrated, at least at face value.
That’s exactly how the career of one James Farrior is viewed though, especially in the era that he played in behind the likes of names like Ray Lewis, Derrick Brooks, London Fletcher, Zach Thomas and more.
Though he was a he won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and earned a First Team All-Pro honor in 2004 and a Second Team All-Pro honor in 2008, not to mention two Pro Bowls (2004, 2008), runner-up to Baltimore’s Ed Reed in the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in ’04, and an induction into the Steelers’ Hall of Honor in 2020, Farrior was often overlooked, at least from the national media’s perspective.
He wasn’t the biggest name on those Steelers’ defenses in the 2000s and early 2010s — that belonged to guys like Joey Porter, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. Few were better than Farrior though, so it wasn’t surprising to see the former Steelers’ star rank No. 2 overall in NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero’s top 5 underrated linebackers in NFL history list Tuesday morning.
“James Farrior, a former Jet, a longtime Pittsburgh Steeler who was a defensive captain with the Steelers for eight years, he went to three Super Bowls, won two of them” Pelissero said regarding Farrior’s ranking at No. 2 overall in his most underrated linebacker list. “He was nominated for the Hall of Fame in 2020. Again, another player who every time you would watch the Steelers, you would see him doing this [making plays].
“He was also one of the toughest guys, the most durable guys in the league. Look at the most defensive starts in the main decade of his career, from 2002 to 2011. Nobody started more defensive games, including the playoffs, than James Farrior.”
It wasn’t always that way for Farrior early in his career. The No. 8 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft by the Jets, Farrior struggled to catch on as an outside linebacker in the Big Apple. Though he recorded 145 tackles in his final season with the Jets, New York opted not to offer him a contract in free agency, leading to him landing with the Steelers in 2002 when then-Steelers’ Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert signed him off the street in free agency for just three years and $5.4 million.
That turned out to be the best free agent signing in Steelers history, as Farrior went on to rack up numbers, accolades and helped the Steelers’ defense transform into the best in the league for half a decade, leading to two Super Bowl wins and an appearance in a third.
In 10 seasons with the Steelers, Farrior recorded at least 100 tackles in six of the 10 seasons, including a high of 141 in 2003. Along with his ability to get to the football and get guys on the ground on a consistent basis, Farrior was also an adept blitzer, recording 30.0 career sacks in Pittsburgh in LeBeau’s Fire X Blitz package, and really developed in coverage in his time in the Steel City, recording eight interceptions in total, including a pick-six in 2004 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
As a member of the Steelers, Farrior’s stat line reads like this: 1,085 tackles, 82 tackles for loss, 47 quarterback hits, 30.0 sacks, eight interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, and 53 passes defensed. Quite impressive, quite underrated indeed.