Ranking The Top 10 Linebackers In Steelers History

Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

By: Jordan DeFigio, @fidgenewton


Close your eyes for a minute. Picture yourself on the gridiron. It’s snowing so hard, you can barely see one yard in front of you. The noise from the crowd is so deafening even your own thoughts become hard to hear. The home team has the momentum and the sea of black and gold chants “Defense” in an attempt to rattle you. It’s working. You’re the wide-eyed young quarterback about to run a play head to head against the treacherous Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Across the line of scrimmage, you make eye contact with the greatest linebacker in the history of the franchise, the last man you want barreling through the offensive line at you. But who is it?

Because of the rich history at this particular position for the Steelers, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one (though I can’t imagine there will be much debate on who does take that number one spot). I had the pleasure of doing a deep dive into the best to ever suit up in black and gold, and it was difficult to keep it to 10.

This is my (somewhat subjective) opinion. While I take into account statistics, I also use things that aren’t as tangible like presence, leadership, and overall value to the team. It’s also worth noting that sacks didn’t become an official stat until 1982, while forced fumbles didn’t become a stat until 1993, and tackles started being recorded in 1994 (but didn’t become an official stat until 2001).

Keeping all of that in mind, here we go.


10. TJ Watt (2017-Present)

TJ Watt is by far the youngest and only current player on this list, but he absolutely deserves to be on it. In just 47 games played, Watt has recorded 167 tackles, 34.5 sacks, 18 deflected passes, 3 interceptions, and 15 forced fumbles. He is coming off a monster season, one that should have won him Defensive Player of the Year. Regardless of accolades, he has proven that he was well worth the first round pick the Steelers used to get him in 2017. If he is able to elevate his play even more, he will undoubtedly find himself higher up the list by the end of his career.


9. James Farrior (2002-2011)

James Farrior was a consistent and powerful force as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 230 games played with the team, Farrior recorded 864 tackles, 31.5 sacks, 55 deflected passes, 10 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 1 fumble, 12 forced fumbles, and won 2 Super Bowl rings. He was reliable and was gifted with the ability to break up plays from anywhere on the field.


8. Lawrence Timmons (2008-2016)

Perhaps one of the most underrated and under-appreciated linebackers for the Steelers is Lawrence Timmons. The guy just was a Steel Curtain defense player. In 158 games played with the team, he recorded 868 total tackles, 35.5 sacks, 43 deflected passes, 12 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 13 forced fumbles, and won a Super Bowl ring. He played his final season in Miami, though it never felt right seeing him in a Dolphins uniform.


7. Ryan Shazier (2014-2018)

Despite this being the saddest “what-could-have-been,” Ryan Shazier still makes my list at no. 7. He played in only 46 games and recorded 275 tackles, 7 sacks, 25 deflected passes, 7 interceptions, and 7 forced fumbles. Of course, these stats would be much higher and his career much longer if he hadn’t suffered a devastating spinal contusion injury on December 4, 2017. Shazier has remained with the team in a coaching role and has made miraculous strides in his recovery.


6. Greg Lloyd, Sr. (1988-1997)

Big, bold, and just plain nasty, Greg Lloyd lands at no. 6 on my list. In 131 games played with the Steelers, he recorded 727 tackles, 53.5 sacks, 10 interceptions, 34 forced fumbles, and 15 fumble recoveries. No offensive line was fast enough or strong enough to keep him from the ball, and he lit up opposing defenses all 10 seasons he played with the Steelers.


5. Kevin Greene (1993-1995)

Though his time with the Steelers wasn’t nearly as long as fans would have liked, Kevin Greene still made a big splash in his three seasons with the team. He played 48 games, recording 184 tackles, 35.5 sacks, 1 interception, 6 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016 and will be most prominently remembered for his time in Pittsburgh.


4. Joey Porter (2000-2006)

Joey Porter was known not only for his on-field play, but for his outspoken interviews and energy. Porter played 122 games in Pittsburgh, recording 468 tackles, 60 sacks, 42 deflected passes, 10 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 17 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, 2 touchdowns, and winning a Super Bowl ring. His time with the Steelers was not without drama, as he was often rebuked for speaking out and out of turn. But no one can deny his production on the field which made him deserving of a spot in the top 10.


3. James Harrison (2004-2016)

An enigmatic and explosive personality, James Harrison was probably one of the most controversial players in the team’s history. In 177 games played with the Steelers, he recorded 772 tackles, 80.5 sacks, 23 deflected passes, 7 interceptions, 33 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown, as well as winning 2 Super Bowl rings and breaking the record for longest play in Super Bowl history. While he is arguably one of the best linebackers in franchise history and frequently made big plays, his style of play came with its own set of consequences. He was the recipient of several fines for illegal hits from the league and suffered a suspension for the same offense. Not to mention that since Harrison left Pittsburgh in 2016, his relationship with the team has been shaky at best. Despite all of his shortcomings, he still produced and helped the team win.


2. Jack Ham (1971-1982)

Not only the second best linebacker to ever play for the Steelers, Jack Ham is considered to be one of the best linebackers in NFL history. 162 games played, 3 sacks (in the first season the sack became a statistic), 32 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 21 fumble recoveries, 1 touchdown, and won 4 Super Bowl rings. He was fast, agile, and a huge part of the Steelers’ dynasty.


1. Jack Lambert (1974-1984)

You can probably argue the placement of the other guys on this list, and perhaps whether or not they’re even worthy to be on it. But the number one spot should go without saying and without dissension; Jack Lambert is the greatest linebacker in Steelers history. That toothless grimace and angry stare says it all, and he was willing to do whatever it took to whoever was in his way to get to the football. He played 146 games, and in those 146 games recorded 8 sacks (over the course of 3 seasons after the sack statistic was introduced), 28 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries, and won 4 Super Bowl rings. He is the epitome of the Steel Curtain; Jack Lambert IS the Steel Curtain. Hell, guys probably still have nightmares about coming face to face with Jack Lambert. He existed in an era of NFL football where there were no holds barred, no real restrictions on hits. And boy if he didn’t take advantage of that. He was a monster, a beast, and an immortal icon in the Steel City. Everyone else will always be playing for second.


But I’m only one person, and there’s a plethora of talented linebackers deserving of some love. If it were up to you, who’s on YOUR list? Do you agree with me or think I’m full of it? Sound off in the comments below!



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