The Pittsburgh Steelers have employed some of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Kevin Greene, the latter of whom died in 2020 at the age of 58. But among all the illustrious names on the list of Steelers linebacking greats, one who often gets overlooked is James Farrior.
So it’s nice to see Farrior — a first-round pick of the New York Jets who joined the Steelers in 2002 — get recognized by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, who recently labeled Farrior the second-most underrated linebacker of all-time, ahead of Carl Banks (New York Giants), Otis Wilson (Chicago Bears) and Mo Lewis (New York Jets).
James Farrior Was Runner-Up for Defensive Player of the Year (2004)
One of the reasons Farrior doesn’t get the recognition he deserves is that he wasn’t a homegrown Steeler. He spent the first five years of his career with the Jets, who selected him No. 8 overall in 1997 out of Virginia.
But it wasn’t until after Farrior came to Pittsburgh that he reached his potential, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2004 and making the Pro Bowl again in 2008. In fact, Farrior finished as runner-up to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2004, a season in which he was in on a relatively modest 95 tackles but made more than his share of splash plays, including four interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
All told, Farrior played 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, during which time the Steelers went to the Super Bowl on three separate occasions. In those 10 years he started 154 games and recorded 1,085 tackles (740 solo), including 82 tackles for loss, 30 sacks, eight interceptions, 53 passes defensed, 12 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries, as per Pro Football Reference (PFR).
NFL observers applauded Pelissero for including Farrior on his list, with Twitter user Capp Branigan writing: “Cool to see Farrior here. Not many non Steelers fans ever talked about how good he was. That ’08 defense will probably be the best Steelers defense I see in my lifetime, and he was a big part of it.”
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Former Jets LB Larry Grantham Is No. 1 on Pelissero’s List
In case you’re wondering about the only player ahead of Farrior on Pelissero’s list, that would be the decidedly undersized Larry Grantham, who was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 15th round of the 1960 NFL Draft but chose to play for the AFL’s New York Titans, who would later become the New York Jets.
Grantham — who was just six feet tall and listed at a mere 210 pounds — was named first-team All-AFL during the first five seasons of his career but had one of his finest seasons in 1969, the year the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. Grantham played a total of 175 games during his 13-year career and intercepted 24 passes during that time frame, according to PFR.
In 2008, he told the New York Times that his playing weight was never above 192 pounds, and often much less. Grantham died in 2017 at the age of 78.
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