Ranking the Top 5 Wide Receivers in Pittsburgh Steelers History
Unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers' storied history is full of great wide receivers.
The Steelers have had three wide receivers named Super Bowl MVP. They have two who’ve managed to parlay their successes into enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The toughness lies in ranking these top-flight receivers. Do Lynn Swann’s Super Bowl heroics land him ahead of teammate John Stallworth? Is Hines Ward, the team’s all-time leader in virtually every receiving stat, good enough to jump those two?
And who else is good enough to earn a spot among those three locks? Read on to find out.
5. Antonio Brown
It may seem like a knee-jerk reaction to place Antonio Brown on this list after his spectacular ’13 season, but comparing him to his stiffest competition turns up different results.
None of Roy Jefferson, Plaxico Burress or Yancey Thigpen had more than two 1,000-yard seasons in Pittsburgh. Brown’s had that many through four professional seasons.
Guys like Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace had the potential to land in this spot, but off-field issues and inconsistent hands/route running, respectively, saw the two on new teams after their fourth years.
Of course, Brown’s explosion in 2013 could’ve been an aberration, but the 25-year-old’s upside is tough to ignore. Brown’s 1,500-yard campaign was the most receiving yards recorded by a Steeler. Ever.
That includes each of the previously mentioned players as well as the four to follow.
Brown hasn’t broken NFL records, but rather, he’s created them. In 2011, Brown became the first man in league history to chalk up 1,000 yards both receiving and returning. In 2013 he became the only man to record at least five receptions and 50 yards in all 16 games.
Fans can’t wait to see what the two-time team MVP will do for an encore.
4. Buddy Dial
Buddy Dial may have only played with the Steelers from 1959-1963, but the numbers he posted in his five-year stint were among the best in team history.
In fact, Dial left the team with the four best single-season receiving yardage totals in team history. His 1,295-yard campaign in 1963 is still good enough for seventh on the team’s all-time list.
In a league that prioritized the run, Dial was able to dominate through the air. Even in his rookie season, Dial managed to convert a mere 16 receptions into better than 400 yards and six scores.
That kind of production on limited touches would act as a prelude of things to come. Dial averaged nearly 21 yards per catch during his career, a mark that would make even Mike Wallace jealous.
To this day, Dial’s 12-touchdown effort in 1961 is tied for the most in team history. And to think the team traded him away for nothing at all.
3. Lynn Swann
Lynn Swann’s career stats aren’t jumping off the page at anyone. He never managed even 900 yards in a season, and former Steeler Nate Washington has more career receiving yards than the Super Bowl X MVP.
So, then what garners Swann a prestigious spot among the team’s all-time best? Well, as alluded to in the previous paragraph, Swann’s ability to dominate in big moments transcends his underwhelming statistics.
Swann didn’t record a reception in Super Bowl IX, the culmination of his rookie season, but his next three go-rounds more than made up for it.
Swann recorded 364 yards in his next three attempts at a Lombardi trophy, numbers that rank only behind the incomparable Jerry Rice. Swann’s best performance in the big game came in just his second season.
He recorded 161 yards against the Cowboys en route to earning MVP honors for Super Bowl X. That performance seems even more impressive when one considers that Swann was mere days removed from suffering a violent concussion (per Swann's Hall of Fame biography).
2. John Stallworth
While one of Lynn Swann’s majestic catches against the Cowboys in Super Bowl X may jump to mind when thinking of Steelers receivers from days past, it was actually Swann’s teammate, John Stallworth, who was the better of the two.
When Stallworth retired in 1987, he held every major Steelers receiving record. Hines Ward snatched his record for receptions in 2005 and jumped his hold on the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns record two seasons later in 2007. That means Stallworth was atop some part of those record books for two decades.
Unlike Swann and Ward, Stallworth can’t lay claim to a Super Bowl MVP. However, without the aid of Stallworth, it’s unlikely that Terry Bradshaw would’ve taken home two such awards.
Between Super Bowls XII and XIV, Stallworth managed 236 yards and three scores on just six receptions. His touchdown against the Rams in XIV would prove to be the game-clincher in the Steelers’ last Super Bowl win for a quarter-century.
1. Hines Ward
Though many Steelers fans are sometimes reluctant to grant any player from after the ‘70s the title of “greatest” anything in team history, Hines Ward represents a rare exception. In fact, there may not have been a player who better epitomized the Steelers than Ward during his playing days.
Sure, his career totals are mighty impressive. His 1,000 receptions (ninth), 12,083 (21st) yards and 85 touchdowns (15th) are each good enough to rank within the top 21 in league history. His playoff totals of 88 receptions (third), 1,181 yards (sixth) and 10 touchdowns (third) look even better when compared with his contemporaries.
But it wasn’t flashy stats that endeared the Super Bowl XL MVP to Steelers fans. It was Ward did when the ball wasn’t in his hands.
The 6’0”, 205-pound receiver was perceived as a dirty player throughout his career for his tenacious blocking. Ward bucked the trend of receivers playing with their head on a swivel and made sure his opponents had to keep an eye on him at all times—lest they end up like poor Keith Rivers.