Now that minicamp is complete and we are waiting for training camp to start in late July, I thought it would be cool to go back and look at Pittsburgh Steelers of the past. The Steelers are a historic organization with six Super Bowls, and because of their rich history I decided to create an all-time Steelers offense and defense but with a twist: only use one player per decade. Now obviously the Steelers haven’t been around for a century to so complete this I had to double up on one decade. So without further ado, here is my all-time Steelers offense using one player per decade.
Quarterback: Bobby Layne 1958 (Third In MVP Voting, Second-Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler)
Bobby Layne was dealt to the Steelers in 1958 from the Detroit Lions in an infamous trade that created “The Curse Of Bobby Layne.” After winning the NFL Championship in 1957 with the Lions, they shipped him away to the middling Steelers. Layne ended up being a star on the Steelers after reuniting with his former head coach Buddy Parker. In 10 games with the Steelers in 1958 Layne completed 133 passes for 2,339 yards and 13 touchdowns. Layne’s impressive play saw him tie for third in the MVP voting that season and saw him be selected to both AP second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl.
Running Back: “Bullet” Bill Dudley 1942 (First-Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler)
Once again here I select an older Steeler. Dudley was an impressive player in his time with the Steelers doing basically everything. He played both offense and defense but for now we are just focusing on what he did as a running back. “Bullet” Bill’s best season as a running back was his first season in the NFL as he ran for 696 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Dudley was a workhorse for Pittsburgh and will be for our offense, as he led the league in touches in 1942 with 163.
Fullback: John Henry Johnson 1962 (Second-Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler)
We’ve still yet to hit the 1970s and beyond but that doesn’t matter here with the electric John Henry Johnson. Johnson, a Pro Hall of Famer, had his best seasons as a Steeler and none were better than his 1962 season when, despite being 33 years old, he ran for a career-high 1,141 yards and seven touchdowns. Like Dudley, Johnson averaged over four yards per carry with 4.5. Johnson, unlike ’42 Dudley, also pitched in through the receiving game, catching 32 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: Antonio Brown 2015 (First-Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler)
Despite all the off-field shenanigans Antonio Brown is known for nowadays, nothing can take away from his playing career. Brown was a dominant player whenever he stepped on the field, and no year was quite as dominant as 2015. Brown caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015. Those numbers could have been even better if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t miss a few games with injury. With Brown on the team, Layne will have one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game to throw to. No matter who is matched up against Brown, he will find a way to get open.
Wide Receiver: John Stallworth 1979 (First-Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler, Super Bowl Champion)
Our first and only member from the 70s is John Stallworth. Stallworth was part of one of the greatest wide receiver duos of all time with Lynn Swann in the 70s and now he will be paired up with Antonio Brown. The reason I’m taking Stallworth over Swann is due to the amount of yards he amassed in ’79. Swann’s best season saw him score more touchdowns than Stallworth, but not by much, while Stallworth’s best year saw him crush Swann in yards. Everything came together for Stallworth in 1979 as he caught 70 passes for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns.
Tight End: Heath Miller 2009 (Pro Bowl)
Heath Miller could do everything and that is why he makes this list. A good blocker and receiver, Miller was unsung in his days as he wouldn’t always amass the most yards on Steelers teams that still focused heavily on running the football. However, for how historic the Steelers are, they haven’t had many great tight ends, but Miller was that. While 2009 wasn’t his best season, it was still a good one that saw him be rewarded with his first Pro Bowl berth. Miller recorded 76 catches for 789 yards and six touchdowns while being an effective blocker in the run game.
Left Tackle: Alejandro Villanueva 2017 (Pro Bowler, Pro Football Writers First-Team All-Conference)
The tackle position for the Steelers may be their weakest overall throughout their rich history. Because of this, we are going to double dip in the 2010s with Alejandro Villanueva’s 2017 season. The former Army Ranger won the hearts of many Steelers fans for his story and play, but no year was better for him than in 2017. While he was likely helped a bit by being part an elite offensive line Villanueva held his own at the blind side, which saw him be selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
Left Guard: Byron Gentry 1938 (First-Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler)
Originally I wanted to go with the legendary Alan Faneca at left guard, but I needed someone from the 1930s and the Steelers were very very bad back then. Despite this, when looking over rosters on Pro Football Reference I saw left guard Byron Gentry was a first-team All-Pro selection and a Pro Bowler. No one else on the ’30s roster stood out so he became the man to play left guard for our all-time Steelers team. Gentry only played three seasons in the NFL, all for the Steelers and made the Pro Bowl in two of them. Gentry’s career ended after the 1939 season and he went on to fight in World War II, become a lawyer, and publish a book.
Center: Mike Webster 1981 (First Team All-Pro, Pro Bowler)
It would be a disservice not to include the greatest center of all time on the all-time Steelers team. And luckily with Webster, while he is most well known for being part of the 70’s Super Bowl teams, he was also a very effective player in the 1980s when the Steelers weren’t that good. You can even argue that 1981 was Webster’s best season as he was selected to the AP first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl while playing every game despite not being on a team that was as dominant as its 70s predecessors.
Right Guard: James Daniels 2022
With how the roster is constructed right now and to stay within the rules, Daniels has to be our choice. While David DeCastro is the best right guard in the Steelers history, we already have two players from the 2010s on our roster. While I considered using 2004 Marvel Smith for left tackle to fit DeCastro in here, I couldn’t bring myself to then have to leave Heath Miller off this list. Therefore we are left with Daniels, who played admirably in his first year with the team in 2022. Daniels played a big part in turning the Steelers offensive line unit from shambolic to respectable. Daniels didn’t make a Pro Bowl, but he played in every game and never missed a snap. He played well in 2022 and wouldn’t be too out of place on this offensive line.
Right Tackle: Tunch Ilkin 1991
While nowadays Tunch Ilkin may be more remembered for his job doing color commentary for the Steelers, he was also a pretty good right tackle. Ilkin spent most of his time on the Steelers in the 1980s but as his time in Pittsburgh came to a close he was able to put together a good season in 1991. The Steelers struggled overall that year, going 7-9 in what was Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll’s last season, but none of that was due to Ilkin, who played in all 16 games that season.