15 most athletic players in Pittsburgh Steelers history

Ranking the most athletic players to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers
New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

Like every other organization, the Steelers have had a litany of players over the decades who donned the 'Black and Gold'. Some of those players were future Hall of Famers, and some of those players were great players who are either waiting for the call, so to speak, or who have not quite made the cut yet. Other players were good and other players were not so good.

Ironically, even some of the not-so-good players were incredible athletes in college who maybe just couldn't put it all together in the NFL. The discussion were are about to undertake will be a discussion about the fifteen players whom I believe were the most athletic players in team history. Keep in mind that we will be talking about a player's athleticism and not necessarily the prowess displayed or not displayed on the field.

15. Mark Malone: 1st-round pick, 1980

When the Steelers selected Mark Malone in the first round of the 1980 draft, I honestly had no idea what an exceptional athlete he was in high school and college. Having been born and raised in Philadelphia well before the advent of the internet, all I had to rely on for Steelers news were magazines and my eyes.

What my eyes saw was someone who was obviously athletic, having played wide receiver on a few occasions and, in 1981, having set a then-record for the longest pass in Steelers history. That record stood for thirty years.

Malone did not shy away from contact as he was not afraid to run the ball when the situation warranted it. Unfortunately for us and Malone, his athletic prowess did not translate into an exceptional Steelers career. Malone finished with a losing record as a starting QB.

14. Bubby Brister: 3rd-round pick , 1986

Another QB who was an exceptional athlete was Bubby Brister, who was selected in the third round of the 1986 draft. Similar to not knowing anything about Malone, I didn't know much of anything about Brister except what I saw him do on the field.

Like Malone, Brister was not afraid to run the ball. He scored seven rushing TDs in his Steelers career. What I remember most about Brister was his fearless nature, He would stand in the pocket knowing he was going to get crunched but he would also scamble if he had to.

I was surprised to learn that Brister had been drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1981, although I was not surprised the Tigers drafted him based on the velocity with which he threw the ball. Brister possessed a really good arm.

13. Dwight Stone: Undrafted Free Agent, 1987

Next up is Dwight Stone, an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State whom the Steelers signed in 1987. The first thing I noticed about Stone, as I am sure almost everyone did, was his speed. I remember commentators saying that he ran the forty-yard dash in the sub-four-three range.

I also remember other commentators saying that Stone ran a four-two-five forty-yard dash. Whatever Stone's time was in the 'forty', it was fast, no doubt about it. He played WR, and RB and was fairly exceptional in the return game.

Stone amassed twelve receiving TDs, one rushing TD, and one kick return TD in his Steelers career. Another thing I vividly remember about Stone was his seeming inability to make the 'simple' catches. He would routinely make those 'spectacular' or 'combat' catches, but the simple ones seemed to elude him.

12. Larry Brown: 5th-round pick, 1971

In the fifth round of the 1971 draft, the Steelers drafted a tight end out of Kansas who would later become arguably the greatest right tackle in franchise history. Larry Brown, the aforementioned tight end out of Kansas, spent the first six seasons of his fourteen-year career as a tight end.

For the next eight seasons, Brown played right tackle and played it at an exceptionally high level. For a player to make that type of transition is remarkable. What I remember most about Brown was the athleticism he displayed both in the running game and in the passing game.

Although Brown was elected to only one Pro Bowl at age thirty-three I might add, you could see how physically gifted he was. Brown finished his Steelers career as a four-time Suoer Bowl champ, playing in one-hundred and sixty-seven games.

11. Mel Blount: 3rd-round pick, 1970

Next up is Mel Blount, a physically imposing cornerback we drafted in the third round of the 1970 draft. Blount stood six feet, three inches, and weighed over two hundred pounds. That was huge for a cornerback in the 1970s. Frankly, it's huge for a cornerback today.

Blount was so dominant due to his size and pure athleticism that the NFL had to change the rules regarding how and when a wide receiver could be contacted down the field. Forever remembered as the 'Mel Blount Rule', it altered the style of play of every cornerback from then until now.

The 'Mel Blount Rule' also forever changed the passing game. While the NFL was trying to throttle the Steelers defense, they inadvertently helped the Steelers offense blossom into one of the most dominant offenses of the 1970s, hence part of the reason we won four Super Bowls in six years.

10. Terry Bradshaw: 1st-round pick, 1970

Coming in at number ten is Terry Bradshaw, our first-round pick in the 1970 draft. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Bradshaw was an accomplished javelin thrower in high school. That would explain the sheer power with which he launched the ball.

Bradshaw threw one of the best balls I have ever seen and I go back forty-six-plus years. What was very evident to me was the fact that Bradshaw did not shy away from contact and had a penchant for running the ball when necessary or when the opportunity presented itself.

Bradshaw finished his Steelers career with over two thousand, five hundred yards rushing and thirty-seven TDs on the ground between the regular season and the postseason. Not to mention the fact that Bradshaw was the best 'big game' QB I have ever seen.

9. Dri Archer: 3rd-round pick, 2014

In the 2014 draft, we selected a 'lightning-quick' wide receiver out of Kent State. Dri Archer was certainly quick, very quick. He was also a tremendous athlete. Archer attended high school in Florida where he ran track and field. He finished second in the one-hundred-meter final.

Archer's speed and quickness were evident, but the productivity in the NFL did not materialize as I'm sure he and we would have liked it to materialize. Archer played two seasons for the Steelers and was out of the NFL altogether following the 2015 season.

8. Dermontti Dawson: 2nd-round, 1988

When the Steelers selected Dermontti Dawson in the second round of the 1998 draft, I knew that 'Iron' Mike Webster's time as a Steeler was coming to an end. I was deeply saddened as Webster was and still is my favorite Steelers player.

Dawson started five games at guard in his rookie campaign. It was evident to me that Dawson did not possess the raw strength that Webster possessed, but he was arguably more athletic in the sense that if Webster was a 'battleship', Dawson was a 'destroyer'.

Both were strong, quick, and agile, but Dawson just seemed to be a 'tick' more agile than 'Iron' Mike. I was surprised to learn that Dawson was an all-state athlete in track and field in high school, although if you watched Dawson play, you could easily arrive at that conclusion.

Like his predecessor, Dawson ended up being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and rightly so. He not only carried on a tradition of excellence at the center position that 'Iron' Mike started but established an even higher standard by which not only future Steelers centers were to be judged but arguably all centers were to be judged.

7. Ben Roethlisberger: 1st-round 2004

When we selected Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 draft, I didn't know what to think as I had not watched a whole lot of MAC (Mid-American Conference) college football back then. Even before entering college, 'Big Ben' was a three-sport athlete in high school.

We could probably spend the rest of our discussion talking about the exploits and accomplishments of 'Big Ben' but if you did not have the privilege of watching him play during the early years of his career, you missed out on one heck of a show. He combined both elusiveness and toughness in the same vein as Bradshaw and Brister.

Roethlisberger played his entire eighteen-year career with the Steelers, breaking and setting numerous records. Although Roethlisberger is a couple of years away from being eligible for entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I would be shocked if he is not a first-ballot selection.

6. Greg Llyod: 6th-round pick, 1987

Greg Lloyd was one of the greatest linebackers in Steelers history. I don't think there's any argument to the contrary. A sixth-round pick in the 1987 draft out of Fort Valley State, Lloyd became a full-time starter in 1989. His presence was immediately felt racking up seven sacks that season.

While Lloyd was an accomplished pass-rusher, that wasn't his only 'game', so to speak. Lloyd would almost consistently drop into coverage or line up as the middle linebacker, depending on the call. If you look purely at statistics, you might say that Lloyd wasn't all that great at rushing the passer as evidenced by the fact that he finished his Steelers career with fifty-three and a half sacks over ten seasons.

That would be an incorrect assumption. Lloyd forced thirty-four fumbles, had fifteen fumble recoveries, and had ten INTs while wearing the 'Black and Gold'. That's pretty darn impressive. What was also pretty darn impressive was the fact that Lloyd was a martial arts maven, having earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

5. John Stallworth: 4th-round pick, 1974

Next up is John Stallworth, who was selected in the fourth round of the legendary 1974 Steelers draft. Stallworth played his entire fourteen-year career with us and what a career it was. What always impressed me about Stallworth was his innate ability to not only get open but to make those 'combat' catches with seeming ease.

Stallworth was the perfect compliment to his running mate about whom we will talk momentarily but he was also great in his own right. Like his running mate, Stallworth seemed to save his best for the moments that mattered the most.

In addition to his regular season statistics, Stallworth added a little over one thousand yards receiving and twelve TDs to a Hall of Fame career. Forget the number of Pro Bowls he was elected to or the number of All-Pro nods he received. Stallworth was an accomplished, athletic wide receiver.

4. Lynn Swann: 1st-round pick, 1974

Coming in at number four on our list is the running mate to Stallworth to whom I alluded, Lynn Swann. As his last name might imply, 'Swanny' was as graceful as a swan but as tough a cassowary. Swann was not afraid to go across the middle to make a catch.

Going across the middle back then was hazardous to one's health, as it were, but Swan didn't seem to care. He would not only routinely make those types of catches but would routinely make the spectacular, acrobatic catch.

Although I was very young when the Steelers played the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X, I still remember those unbelievably athletic catches Swann made en route to winning the Most Valuable Player award, and deservedly so. If you didn't get the opportunity to see Swann play during his nine-year career, I would say you missed out on what was truly something to behold.

If you have been a part of our discussion thus far, you have probably figured out who the top three players are and that's a good thing. I'm sure there may be some debate as to which player lands in the number one spot. That said, let's bring this discussion to its natural conclusion.

3. Kordell Stweart: 2nd-round pick, 1995

When the Steelers selected Kordell Stewart in the second round of the 1995 draft, I was a little surprised because Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, and Jim Miller were already on the roster. What also surprised me was how Stewart contributed that season.

Although he started only two games at QB, Stewart's sheer and raw athleticism was on display in both the running and passing game, having contributed eighty-six yards on the ground and two-hundred and thirty-five yards on fourteen receptions.

The following season 'Slash', as Stewart had been dubbed, gained one-hundred and seventy-one yards on the ground and almost three hundred receiving yards, but what stood out was the fact that Stewart contributed eight total TDs between the running game and passing game.

Stewart was truly a unique athlete. I have always maintained that had Stewart honed his route running and receiving skills, he would have gone down as one the greatest wide receivers in Steelers history, but, alas, it was not meant to be. Stewart finished his Steelers career with two more INTs than TDs.

2. Troy Polamalu: 1st-round pick, 2003

Next up is Troy Polamalu. I know what some of you may be thinking. How could you place Polamalu at number two on this list? That would be a compelling argument for sure, but I think you'll see momentarily why I placed him in the second spot.

Polamalu was our first-round pick in the 2003 draft. At that juncture, I hadn't watched a whole lot of PAC-12 football except for the games that were played on East Coast time so I didn't know all that much about Polamalu but I knew enough to figure out that if we drafted him in the first round, he must have been good.

To put it bluntly, Polamalu was not good, he was phenomenal. Not only was Polamalu a phenomenal athlete, but he possessed instincts that I had not seen in a Steelers safety since Mike Wagner and Donnie Shell. I would argue that the top three safeties in Steelers' history are the players I just mentioned.

Considering Polamalu and Shell are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I would say the people who vote for players to be inducted into the Hall witnessed the greatness of Polamalu in the same vein as I did. I do not doubt that sometimes his teammates on the defensive side of the ball didn't know what he was going to do in a given play.

1. Rod Woodson: 1st-round pick, 1987

Coming in as the greatest athlete in Steelers history is Rod Woodson, who was taken at number ten in the first round of the 1987 draft. Woodson was truly a generational talent. He enjoyed a stellar college career at Purdue. That stellar college career translated rather smoothly into a stellar NFL career.

Throughout his ten-year Steelers career, Woodson amassed the following statistics: thirty-eight INTs, sixteen forced fumbles, nearly two-thousand, and five hundred punt and kick return yards during the regular season, and an additional one-hundred or so yards in the playoffs.

Like Polamalu, Woodson possessed instincts that I had not seen in cornerback since Mel Blount. He wasn't as physically imposing as Blount was, but Woodson was more athletic. If Blount was the equivalent of a 'battleship', Woodson could be likened to a 'destroyer', every bit as potent as a battleship, but more nimble.

As gracefully as he played cornerback was as gracefully as he returned kicks and punts. Woodson probably could have played receiver or running back had he been allowed to. I'm sure he wouldn't have minded the extra reps.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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