But the draft is over, you say.
That’s true, but for completionist principles, we had to do this.
Other than the two at the top, what you won’t find on this list are skill players (not even in the honorable mentions). After all, the Steelers just don’t spend first round picks on them often, and have completely abstained in the past 11 drafts. Of the 20 picks, only Burress, Roethlisberger, Holmes and Mendenhall would fall into that category on the offensive side (that’s two receivers, a running back and a quarterback.) On the defensive side, the Steelers have used three of the 20 picks on the defensive backfield, Polamalu, Burns and Edmunds.
The Steelers have made their living in the trenches–both offensive and defensive–and on pass rush specialists in the first-round. Five of the last seven first-round selections have played linebacker. The Steelers have spent three first-rounders on offensive line, one at tight end (Heeaaattthhh), three on the defensive line and six on linebackers since 2000.
With all the success the Steelers have had drafting in the first-round, there were a lot of names left out of the top six and many of the picks are debatable. You could probably scramble numbers 3-6 on this list in any order without too much consternation. The top two? They’ll probably remain at the top for a long, long time.
6. Cam Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Nine years into Cam Heyward’s career and he’s been aging like a fine wine. Heyward was drafted 31st overall in 2011 and didn’t start until his third season. He’s started 99 games since, racking up 54 sacks, 397 tackles and 79 tackles for loss. In the past three seasons, Heyward has made three consecutive Pro Bowl teams and been selected as a First-Team All Pro twice.
Heyward was dominant in 2019 with 83 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, nine sacks and six passes defensed. He’s the heart and soul of the Steelers defense and could find himself moving up this list when it’s all said and done.
5. David DeCastro, RG, Stanford
A five time Pro Bowler and two time All-Pro, DeCastro has been a mainstay at right guard for the Steelers since the 2013 season. The team’s 24th overall pick of the 2012 draft, DeCastro has few weaknesses and is a potential future Hall of Famer if he can maintain his high level play over the next few seasons.
4. Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
Despite an off year (for a player of his caliber) in 2019, Pouncey has been an absolute stud in the middle of the Steelers offensive line for the past nine seasons. Since coming into the league in 2010, Pouncey has started 121 games and has been flagged only 23 times.
How good has Pouncey been? Pro Football Reference has him ranked 14th on their all-time list of Hall of Fame potential centers. With two All-Pro selections and an eight time Pro Bowler, the only thing missing from his resume is a Championship (and maybe a couple more good years.)
3. Casey Hampton, NT, Texas
It’s hard to call someone 325-pounds overlooked, but Hampton may have just been during his 12 years in Pittsburgh. Hampton became the team’s starter his rookie year and never looked back, starting 164 games over his career.
Judging Hampton just on his numbers would be a mistake, he only had nine sacks, 398 tackles and 39 tackles-for-loss in 173 games. But he was a monster in the middle, absorbing blockers and making things easier for the linebackers and defensive ends. Porter, Gildon, Harrison and Woodley would never have put up the gaudy numbers that they did without the man affectionately known as “Big Snack” in the trenches.
2. Troy Polamalu, S, USC
It’s pretty tough to put a Hall of Fame safety, one of the greatest to ever play the game at number two. But that’s just the way it is when you have a future Hall of Fame quarterback to contend with.
The second best first-round pick of the Colbert era, Polamalu played all 12 years of his career with the Steelers and was an absolute force all-over the field.
More of a hybrid than a pure safety, Polamalu was completely unpredictable. One play he would be leaping over the line to make a tackle in the backfield, the next, making a diving one-handed interception.
In 158 games, Polamalu had 783 tackles, 107 passes defensed, 32 interceptions, 56 tackles-for-loss, 14 forced fumbles and 12 sacks. The USC product also won two Super Bowls and played in a third, was named first team All-Pro four times and won defensive player of the year in 2010.
1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (Ohio)
Troy Polamalu is a tough act to follow, but that’s exactly what Ben Roethlisberger did. Drafted the year after Polamalu, they were the driving force behind the Steelers return to glory from 2005-2010. Although both will be together in the NFL Hall of Fame, Ben gets the nod, if for longevity if nothing else (and playing the most important position on the field.)
Roethlisberger is still playing, looking to bounce back after an injury shortened 2019, but only two years removed from leading the league in passing yards with 5129. In 16 years with the team, Ben has thrown a team-record 363 touchdowns, 56545 yards and won 144 games. Big Ben also has racked up 13 playoff wins and two Super Bowl victories among three appearances.
Roethlisberger is already 17th all-time on Pro Football References all-time list of approximate value career leaders. And he’s not done yet. Can Roethlisberger put together another Super Bowl run a la John Elway or Peyton Manning before he goes riding off into the sunset? Only time will tell.