Pittsburgh Steelers: The Best 10 Players of the Mike Tomlin Era

Clayton ShadeckContributor IIOctober 17, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Best 10 Players of the Mike Tomlin Era

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    Since the hiring of Mike Tomlin in 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers have continued their incredible run of historical success.

    Picking up right where former coach Bill Cowher left off after his retirement, Tomlin has led the Steelers to playoff appearances in three of his first four seasons as the head coach of the Steelers.  

    Those playoff appearances include two AFC North Divisional championships, two Super Bowl appearances, and a victory at Super Bowl XLIII over Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals.  

    While Tomlin has been a huge part of Pittsburgh's continued success, these 10 players have done more than their share to continue the legacy of football greatness in the city of Pittsburgh.

No. 10: Heath Miller

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    This former University of Virginia tight end may not be the flashiest, fastest, or most flamboyant player in the league, but there is no doubt that the Steelers would not be the team they are without No. 83.

    Since coming into the league as the 30th overall draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft, Miller has been making a name for himself.  

    Averaging over 11 yards per catch and almost five touchdowns per season in his career, the 6-foot-5 Heath Miller has become a large, easy-to-hit, and sure-handed option for Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game.  

    If his offensive production isn't enough, through 98 career games Miller has only lost two fumbles.  Two.

    Heath can catch the ball, he holds onto it, and he can block in the running game.  That is why Miller comes in at No. 10 on the list.

No. 9: Casey Hampton

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    If there would be a book written about Casey Hampton, it would probably be titled, "Casey Hampton: The Big Man in the Middle."  

    Selected by the Steelers as the 19th overall pick in the 2001 draft, Casey Hampton has been making life miserable for opposing running backs ever since.  

    Though he has struggled with his weight and football shape, when he is on the field his presence is frightening.

    At 325 pounds, Hampton takes up the space of almost two men at that nose tackle position.  People will criticize him, but he continues to shine on the field.  Since Tomlin has taken over as head coach, Hampton has made the Pro Bowl in three of the four seasons.  

    When big No. 98 is in the game, he is the keystone of that menacing Steel Curtain run defense, and hopefully he will continue to eat up opposing running backs for years to come.  That's why No. 98 comes in at No. 9 on this list.

No. 8: Rashard Mendenhall

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    The No. 23 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 draft has been tearing up opposing defenses for the last two years.  

    After suffering a fractured shoulder from future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis in his first NFL season, Mendenhall came back with something to prove the following season.

    Eventually taking over the starting spot in 2009, Mendenhall has rushed his way to back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and 20 combined touchdowns the last two seasons.  Mendenhall's ability to break tackles, break-away speed, and ankle-breaking spin moves have helped establish him as a staple in not only the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense, but as one of the top running backs in the NFL.  

    Mendenhall has solidified himself as worthy of the No. 8 spot on this list.

No. 7: Mike Wallace

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    Though he has only been with the team for a little over two seasons, this third round draft pick has already left his mark on the NFL.  

    Arguably one of the fastest players in the NFL, Mike Wallace has completely transformed this Pittsburgh Steelers' offense.  

    Wallace's speed makes him a scoring threat on each and every play.  Taking over for Santonio Holmes after he was dealt to the New York Jets, Wallace managed to amass 1,273 receiving yards (good for third most in the AFC) and 13 touchdowns for the AFC North champions and Super Bowl runners-up.

    In Super Bowl XLV, Wallace was the leading receiver for Pittsburgh with nine receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown.  Coming in at No. 7 on this list, No. 17 should continue to leave opposing cornerbacks in his dust for years to come.

No. 6: James Farrior

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    When it comes to the position of inside linebacker, not many players are more feared in the NFL than No. 51, James Farrior.  

    Since coming to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002, Farrior has been making life a living hell for opposing ball carriers.  

    In the last four seasons, No. 51 has averaged 109 tackles and five sacks a year.  A former top 10 draft pick, Farrior has continued to put up Hall of Fame numbers into his mid-30s.  

    Combined with Larry Foote, James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley, Farrior is part of one of the most ruthless and aggressive linebacking cores in all the NFL.

    Flying under the radar behind younger and more flashy NFL linebackers, Farrior continues to make his mark on the NFL as one of the best inside linebackers.  Though he is 36 years of age, the only number that matters to Steelers' fans: 51. That is why Farrior comes in as No. 6 on this list.

No. 5: Santonio Holmes

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    Now I know many Steelers fans will disagree with me, but there is time when fans have to forget about the present and remember the past.  

    While he has had his off-the-field problems, Santonio Holmes was one of the greatest, most clutch players in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

     In the three years Holmes played for the Steelers under Tomlin, Holmes averaged over 1,000 yards receiving per season.  The statistics aren't all that important, though.  

    No. 10 flourished when the game was on the line.  In Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers got the ball back, needing a touchdown in the last 2:37 to win the game.  

    Holmes had the last 46 yards receiving for the Steelers, including a 40-yard completion from Roethlisberger and the game-winning six-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with only 35 seconds left.  

    The eventual MVP of that game, Holmes finished with nine receptions for 131 yards and a highlight reel, game-winning touchdown.  Even though he now plays for the rival New York Jets, No. 10 will always hold a special place in the hearts of Steelers fans.  

    That's why he comes in at No. 5 on this list.

No. 4: James Harrison

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    Coming in at No. 4 on the list is quite possibly the scariest player in the NFL.  

    The hard-hitting Harrison is a physical presence on the field that you rarely see in the NFL.  The outside linebacker for the Steelers has averaged 94 tackles and almost nine sacks in the four seasons since Tomlin took over the as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Every time he hits an opposing player, there is a chance the ball carrier won't be coming back into the game for quite some time.  Being selected to the Pro Bowl the last four seasons, Harrison has solidified himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL and a staple in the Steel Curtain defense.

    His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals is still the longest play in Super Bowl history.  Harrison has become an icon in the NFL, being fined for questionable hits and changing the game of football almost single-handedly.  

    Even though he will miss a few more weeks with a broken orbital bone, it is almost a guarantee that Harrison will return ready as ever to continue to wreak havoc on NFL offenses.

No. 3: Ben Roethlisberger

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    Landing at No. 3 on this list, Ben Roethlisberger has solidified himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.  

    While his regular season statistics will never compare to those of a Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Michael Vick, for Steelers fans the only numbers that matter are roman numerals—more specifically XL, XLIII, and XLV.  

    In his short career, Big Ben has led the Steelers to three Super Bowls, winning two of them (one under Tomlin).  His unorthodox style of quarterbacking may not be pretty, but to Steelers fans it is a thing of beauty.  

    The 6-foot-5, 241-pound quarterback uses his size to extend plays, while his impromptu style of play-calling and scrambling allow Roethlisberger to make plays no other quarterback in the NFL can.

    In the Mike Tomlin era, Big Ben has had 16 come-from-behind victories in either the fourth quarter or overtime.  

    Ben flat out gets it done when the game is on the line, leading the Steelers down the field to win Super Bowl XLIII with less than three minutes remaining. Though he has had off-the-field problems, Roethlisberger continues to win football games and make the playoffs.

     At the end of the day, that is all that matters.

No. 2: Hines Ward

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    Whether he is winning "Dancing with the Stars," catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, or breaking an opposing player's jaw, Hines Ward always has a smile on his face.  

    The leading receiver in Pittsburgh Steelers history—and even though he seems very happy-go-lucky—is a force to be reckoned with on the football field.  

    One of the best blockers in the NFL at the wide receiver position, Hines does not hesitate to put an opponent on his back.  During the Mike Tomlin era, Ward has averaged almost 925 yards and over six touchdowns a season.  

    While these numbers don't seem all that impressive, Ward has been the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers for years.  

    It is the intangibles that set Hines apart from the other Steelers. Whether he is catching a tough pass across the middle in traffic or setting a key block to spring the running back for big gain, Ward is an irreplaceable part of Pittsburgh's success.  

    Setting and example on and off the field for other Steelers players, Ward has been a mainstay with Pittsburgh for 14 seasons.  He continues to be a model of consistency. Coming up with big play after big play every week, No. 86 may go down as the greatest Steelers player of all time and has surely punched his ticket to Canton.

No. 1: Troy Polamalu

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    No. 1 on this list is none other than strong safety Troy Polamalu.  

    With his flowing long hair and soft-spoken manner, Troy lets his play on the field do the talking for him.

    Troy has been selected to the Pro Bowl six of the last seven years while also winning the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year last season. Troy has an uncanny ability to put himself in the right place to make big plays time and time again on the football field.  

    When the Steelers defense needs a big stop, Troy seems to take his play to another level. Whether it is making a big tackle to prevent a first down, coming up with a game-winning interception, or guessing the snap count right and leaping over the line to sack the opposing quarterback on the goal line, Troy is all about making the big play.  

    He plays the game differently than any other safety in the league, lining up all over the field and roaming like a hawk just waiting for someone to throw the ball in his area. His style of play makes it nearly impossible for opposing offensive coordinators to plan for, and his ability to cover ground like no one else allows No. 43 to create turnovers at crucial points in the game.

    Whether or not you agree he is the best player in the Tomlin era, there is no doubt that the Steelers would not be where they are today without the big time play of Troy Polamalu.  That is why I have Troy Polamalu at the top of my list.