There are six Pittsburgh Steelers among Pro Football Focus’ All-Decade Top 101, which includes “the best NFL players from the 2010s.” Actually, it’s seven if you count Emmanuel Sanders, though Sanders hasn’t played for the Steelers since 2013, so most people now associate him with the Denver Broncos.
From bottom to top the six players in question are:
#97 Cameron Heyward
Drafted with the 31st pick of the first round in 2011, Heyward has developed into one of the best interior defensive lineman in the game, not to mention a team leader, having been named a defensive captain of the Steelers for the last five seasons.
PFF‘s Sam Monson notes that “Heyward is coming off the best year of his career, one in which he broke 90.0 in overall PFF grade for the first time and was arguably the best interior lineman not named Aaron Donald.”
#94 James Harrison
James Harrison has been making news lately for all the wrong reasons, at least as far as Steelers fans are concerned. Harrison ignited a controversy last week after he claimed that Mike Tomlin handed him ‘an envelope’ shortly after he was fined $75,000 for a vicious hit on Cleveland Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi back in 2010. The allegation forced Steelers President Art Rooney II to issue a statement to the media, which said: “I am very certain nothing like this ever happened. I have no idea why James would make a comment like this but there is simply no basis for believing anything like this.”
Harrison’s inclusion on this all-decade list is a reminder that he was “one of the best defenders the league has seen, maybe ever,” wrote Monson, even well into the 2010s, when he was on the downside of his career.
#92 Le’Veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell may have forced his way out of Pittsburgh, but he was “a legitimate game-changing back for the majority of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers,” notes PFF, “and his unique style of patient running worked in perfect harmony with the Steelers’ run-blocking to allow him to dominate.”
These days Bell is carrying the ball for the New York Jets, and PFF doesn’t sound optimistic that he will again be among the best backs in football, saying, “We may never see that player again unless the Jets can significantly turn their fortunes around….”
#63 Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu’s last season was in 2014, which explains why his name isn’t higher on this list, “but he was right in the middle of his prime at the start of the decade,” recalls Monson, who goes on to note that “Polamalu ranked ninth in the NFL in PFF grade in 2010 before ranking first in 2011, 10th in 2012 and seventh in 2013….”
All of which helps explains why Polamalu will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, going in on his first year of eligibility.
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#37 Ben Roethlisberger
One can argue that Ben Roethlisberger should be higher on this list, but perhaps recency bias impacted his ranking, as the five-plus quarters of football he played in 2019 were anything but inspiring.
“But at his best, Ben Roethlisberger was up there with the very best quarterbacks in football,” notes Monson, [and] “he went six straight seasons with an overall PFF grade above 80.0.”
#13 Antonio Brown
Last but not least, there’s Antonio Brown, who like Bell, essentially forced his way out of Pittsburgh, prompting a trade to the Oakland Raiders. Brown never played for the Raiders, played just one game for the New England Patriots, and now he’s out of football, closer to the Monday Night Football booth, perhaps, than an NFL field.
But “Brown is one of just three players to amass over 10,000 receiving yards over the decade, and he has at least 14 more touchdowns than either of the other players to break that barrier (Julio Jones and Larry Fitzgerald),” notes PFF, making Brown “one of the best receivers the game ha[s] ever seen when he was on the field.”