In Franchise History, Who Are The Most Underrated Steelers?

We posed a question similar to this a year ago. But that was just regarding the current roster. I want to take it one step further. Who are the most underrated in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history?

I decided to write about this after reading Mike Tanier’s list of the 25 most underrated players of all-time. It’s a good read so check it out (after you answer the title’s question).

You can take this two ways. The most underrated by the franchise’s own fan base or by the national media rating a Steeler. Let me throw a couple options of each but definitely let me know your input below. Lots of names we could consider.

Internally

Lynn Chandnois – Arguably the most underrated and overlooked. A forgotten name of the pre Chuck Noll era, a common threat on this internal list. He played just seven seasons for the Steelers and only 13 total his last two years. Still, he went to a pair of Pro Bowls and is the best returner in franchise history.

He is third all-time in NFL history in kick return average, 29.6 yards. That trails only Gale Sayers and Cordarrelle Patterson. Chandnois’ best season came in 1952, returning two kicks on just 17 tries, leading the league and earning one of his Pro Bowl berths. He was a do-it-all player, a running back who ran for 16 touchdowns and caught 162 total passes. Arguably the best player on bad teams, never did they surpass the .500 mark when he was there, defenses still struggled to stop him.

His career would’ve been even better had Buddy Parker not cut him in a fit of rage. Buddy Parker. Definitely not underrated.

Bill Dudley – This one is understandable because of how long ago he played. A first round pick out of Virginia, he played three seasons with the team, broken up by serving in World War II. In two of his three years, he led the league in rushing and once, he did so in punt return average. Like Chandnois, he did it all as their unquestioned best player. Punted, kicked field goals, caught and threw the ball. He spent the majority of his career elsewhere but never had the success he did in Pittsburgh.

I think Steelers’ fans are sorta aware of him but most couldn’t tell you a thing about his football career. It’s time for a reminder.

Marvel Smith – Someone a little more recent. The Steelers don’t have a fruitful history of renowned offensive tackles and Smith might’ve been that guy if it wasn’t for health. Unfortunately, that made him easy to forget about and his back injuries is what’s commonly associated with him. Still, he started 108 games and made a Pro Bowl in 2004.

Mike Wagner – The Steelers’ defense of the 70s is littered with household names: Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, and Joe Greene. That shoves Wagner’s name into the back of people’s minds, even Steelers’ fans. He was with the team for all four, starting three, and made some of his biggest players in the postseason. In 11 playoff games from 1974 to 1978, he picked off five passes. Two of those came in Super Bowls while two more came in the AFC Championship in 1976 vs rival Oakland.

Wagner’s 36 career regular season interceptions still rank 6th in Steelers’ history. That’s four more than Troy Polamalu. And Troy played in a lot more games.

Ramon Foster – Maybe I’m wrong but I think Foster’s career would be summed up by most fans as “fine.” And it’s more than that, to me, at least. Foster has enjoyed a really strong career. Consistently excellent and so far, he hasn’t shown any drop off in play. 101 starts and still going strong. I know he’s not top-tier but man, Foster is a guy you don’t want to forget about in 20 years. But sadly, probably will.

Gary Dunn – When you think of Steelers’ nose tackles, Casey Hampton is the first to come to mind. But Dunn was Hampton before Hampton, the first nose tackle as the team transitioned from their 4-3 of the 70s to a 3-4 of the 80s. He had 18 career sacks, including six in the 1982 and 1983 seasons.

Per Pro Football Reference, his career arc is similar to William Perry, a name most football fans know. I doubt half the Steelers’ fan population even knows/remembers Dunn existed.

Externally

Donnie Shell – This one is obvious. Shell is one of the most criminally underrated by the national media, right up there with L.C. Greenwood, and someone who should be in the Hall. You don’t need me to make the case for you; you already know. Five Pro Bowls, three-time All-Pro, who finished his career with 51 interceptions. For six straight seasons, he picked off at least five passes.

Someone please get this man in Canton.

Aaron Smith – Steelers’ fans know how important he was to the franchise. An old-school run-stuffer who left the game right before it was populated by supreme athletes, he started 152 games and racked up 44 sacks. From 2000 to 2006, he didn’t miss. Remarkably consistent. Consistently remarkable.

But because he was a run stopper first, most in the national media didn’t care about him at the time. The passage of time hasn’t helped.

Andy Russell – Fire up any documentary on the Steelers’ dynasty and soon enough, it’ll make its way to the Steelers’ linebackers. They’ll discuss Jack Lambert and Jack Ham but not poor Andy Russell. To be fair, Russell wasn’t as good as either of them but he was still rock solid.

Seven time Pro Bowler. Two time World Champion. 18 career interceptions. Think of it this way: he was one of the few people Chuck Noll deemed good enough to keep as he handed out pink slips like candy to the original roster he inherited. A compliment of the highest order.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • StolenUpVotes

    This got me curious so I started to look up some of the accolades of the Blitzburgh era Steelers. Surprised to see that Joel Steed only made it to one pro bowl during his career.

  • Applebite

    Aaron Smith was under rated? Obviously was a media thing, because any suggestions that hinted at trading him for more picks in the draft, were met with hell fire and brimstone from the fans…

  • Jeff Dudash

    Steed was the first name that came to my mind when I read this article. He was a fantastic nose tackle and the key to some excellent Steelers defenses in the 90s.

  • Kevin Artis

    I might at Chad Brown. Kirland, Lloyd and Greene stole the headlines among the fans and media but this guy was tremendous. His versatility to rush the passer and play inside made him stand out. IMO.

  • StolenUpVotes

    Shame they couldn’t keep him around

  • John

    Hard to answer without first knowing what the supposed rating is/was. I don’t agree on a Smith or Russell. Both of them got significant kudos during their career and are talked about often. And unless we are going to go with all linemen or other obscure players, I would offer up the following: Louis Lipps — great from day one but largely overlooked in the pantheon of Steelers’ players; Barry Foster – a stud when he was healthy; Yancey Thigoen — he loooked awesome for a few years with Kordell as the QB.

  • Jeff Dudash

    This will probably upset some people, but I’ll say Ike Taylor was extremely underrated.

    Taylor never made a Pro Bowl. Let’s face it, Ike had awful hands. But he also was tall, super fast and he routinely single covered the other team’s best WR. If he was a better pass catcher, he would have made 5 Pro Bowls and be considered one of the best Steelers CBs of all time.

  • StolenUpVotes

    That he was.

  • John

    Chad Brown was totally underrated but left shortly after he became a somewhat known quantity.

  • StolenUpVotes

    If he could catch we wouldn’t have been able to afford him in all honesty lol

  • Milliken Steeler

    Eric Green was underrated, but he did that to himself. The guy was huge, but athletic, despite having the shape of a bowling pin. He could have probably ended up being among the all time greats, if he kept going and not spun off the rails.

  • newguy68

    Bryan Hinkle

    Sam Davis

    Loren Toews / Robin Cole

    Dwayne Woodruff

  • Milliken Steeler

    Oh wow. Great call on Robin Cole.

  • Alex Kozora

    By the national media? Heck yes he was.

  • Biggie

    There is no doubt Greenwood and Shell both deserve to be in HOF, they are not only because powers to be though early on there were to many Steelers already in, but then when you win 4 SBs in 6 years there is a reason so many deserve to be in.

  • MP34

    He was a little before my time, but Mike Wagner definitely deserves his due. Good call.

    Internally:
    John Jackson
    Duval Love (you may scratch your head until you remember how leaky RG was for most of the 80s)
    Gerald Williams (switched from NT to DE under Cowher)
    DJ Johnson

    Externally:
    Casey Hampton
    Ramon Foster
    Levon Kirkland

  • StolenUpVotes

    John Jackson is another name I thought of after Steed

  • srdan

    I hope I’m wrong.

    Externally and internally-Timmons

  • CP72

    James Farrior was a key piece of what was absolutely amazing defense in the early 2000’s.

    In Steelers linebacker lore Farrior is probably not in the top 10, but maybe he should be.

  • S.T.

    Levon Kirkland, for sure.

  • KaiDex411

    Ryan Clark- guy was great, always covered for Troy on the back end and when
    Troy was out he stepped right in and made game-changing plays.

  • CommonSenseGoneWild

    Brian Hinkle

  • CP72

    Yancey….good one!!

  • Nice, but you forgot to mention the incredible ST player, Chidi Iwuoma.

  • CP72

    Ok I’m a huge Steelers fan….but who in the heck is Sam Davis?

  • JohnB

    Ones I didn’t see mentioned but I believe deserve it:
    Deshea Townsend
    Mewelde Moore
    Clark Haggans
    Chris Hoke

  • KaiDex411

    Hoke and Townsend! great

  • RickM

    Externally, Heath Miller is high on my list. The guy played 11 seasons and was never named a Pro Bowl starter. He was named only once to the 2nd team and only once as a (3rd team) alternate. I think his all-round game was never fully appreciated by the national media.

  • 6 ring circus

    Jeff Hartings

  • newguy68

    Left guard during the 4 Super Bowl run in the 70’s. He may have miss d a SB start due to injury. Undrafted plyed about 12 years with the Steelers

  • Big White

    Underrated is fairly broad, but i’ll go William Gay.

    – 5th Round Pick
    – 10 Seasons
    – Never Missed a Game
    – 84 Passed Def
    – 12 Interceptions with 5 Touchdowns
    – Super Bowl Champion
    – No TD’s surrendered entire 2015 Season as starter at RCB.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    This is going to come as some surprise, but I’m going to say Jack Ham. It sounds ridiculous to say a hall of famer could be underrated, but I don’t know that many acknowledge just how great he was. Here goes my soap box speech: Jack Ham is the greatest 3-4 outside backer in the history of the NFL (with MAYBE Derrick Brooks being the only guy who is close). I don’t think he gets recognized for that. He is often mentioned in passing when discussing the great defense of the 70’s, but not focused on. His play was as close to flawless as any individual who has ever taken the football field IMO.

    As far a guy who history will not remember for how important his contributions were…. that’ll no doubt be Heath Miller in 20 years. He’ll no doubt be remembered locally, but he will be an afterthought in the national media.

  • Big White

    Still playing.

  • cousinbruce

    I don’t know dude. Mike Merriweather and Bryan Hinkle OLB’s were the Steelers Defense in the mid 1980s along with Louis Lipps at WR I feel they are the most underrated Steelers since the 70’s

  • Zhan 使美国再次伟大

    Larry Brown started as a TE in 1971, then transitioned to OT in ’77.

    He played 13 seasons, was on all four SB teams in the ’70’s, went to the Pro Bowl in ’82, played in 52 of a possible 57 games from 1979-1982, and was named to the Steeler’s All Time Team in 2007.

    I found this quote on the internet:

    “Chuck Noll once was asked this question: Of all the great players who contributed to those four Super Bowl championships during the 1970s, who among those not enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame most deserves to be? Noll’s response was instant. Larry Brown…”

  • Dorian James

    I had no idea that Wagner, and Russel were underrated to us Steelers fans. When I would watch those old NFL films docs they got pretty good mention.

  • Dorian James

    I disagree about Barry Foster, he got plenty of notoriety out here in New Jersey. As a matter of fact Barry Foster was the first jersey I ever bought with my own money.
    I can’t look at that number without thinking of him.

  • jsteeler72

    I’ll throw Carnel Lake name in there. Also agree with Lois Lipps. Man if we had a quarterback back in the 80’s I can only imagine the numbers he was actually capable of. Think about it he played with Rich Erenburgh, Weegie Thompson. Walter Ambercrombie, Tim Worley. These names due not exactly bring back fond memories.

  • mokhkw

    Mark Bruener, both internally & externally. It’s hard to appreciate a TE who had 156 receptions in 188 games during his career (9 years with Pittsburgh & 5 with the Texans) but as a blocking TE they didn’t come any better. The 36 Boss sweep would never have worked with Bettis without Bruener being able to handle DEs one-on-one.

    He was once charged with blocking HOF DE Reggie White one-one-one for an entire game. White went sackless and recorded 1/2 a tackle on the day.

  • Dorian James

    Lake? I would have said Perry. Lake was another guy who got plenty of props out here.

  • WAsteeler

    Barry Foster!

  • Alex Kozora

    Russell is in the external category – meaning he is underrated by national media. Not his own base.

  • Dorian James

    Right.

  • jsteeler72

    Perry was good but Lake was better and only the year we went to the superbowl did Lake receive his fair share of media attention. When he moved to corner because Alvoid Mays couldn’t cover anyone. I would agree in Steeler Nation Lake got his props. I seen him play at Three Rivers over a dozen times and if you watched him he covered more busted plays by the LB’s and they knew it that’s why they were so ferocios about getting after the QB.

  • steelmann58

    Really like and agree especially Wanger and Rusell
    but like to include Jon Kolb and Larry Brown
    and maybe ray Mansfield

  • capehouse

    I’d need to do some research to answer this properly, but off the top of my head I was thinking the other day how underrated Mike Merriweather’s time with the Steelers is remembered, because of his holdout and subsequent trade to the Vikings. He would’ve been one of the greats, but 3 Pro Bowls and team MVP got to his head. Another one of my favorite players that’s not talked about a lot is Buddy Dial. We’ve had a lot of great WRs on this team, but Buddy Dial might’ve been the best. Not joking. Injuries and an addiction to pain killers detailed the end of his career, but he was the leagues best deep threat in his 5 years with us. He was also traded away like Merriweather, and even though both trades ended up getting us a 1st rd pick in return they both amounted to basically nothing. Who knows how their careers would’ve ended if they stayed with the Steelers.

  • Eric C. Brown

    Nah. I loved Barry but, let’s be real, the second he went down with foot/ankle injuries, guys like Leroy Thompson and Fred McAfee were putting up 100+yrds a game. That line was insane. I was watching my DVD of the 1994 playoff romp of the Clowns and Dirt, Love, Jackson, Searcy . . . those guys were just bulldozing Clowns. Foster wasn’t touched til like 10 yards down the field.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Lynn Chandnois, I remember him as a kid. great running back and kick returner when he was healthy . He was one of the always injured kind of players. I don’t remember him competing in a game without sustaining some kind of injury,

  • Dale Stewart

    Glen Edwards. A key member of the defensive backfield during the 70’s Super Bowl era. Most of you youngsters have probably never heard his name, and yet the Steelers would very likely have one less Lombardi without his remarkable play. Check out his highlight hit on Youtube from SB IX. The announcer called it a good pop, today it would be a huge fine. Football used to be so awesome.

  • LucasY59

    agree, him and Heath are some of the best, but outside of Pittsburgh wont be remembered (team players that definitely made their teams better)

  • WB Tarleton

    DBs-Deshea Townsend by the Steeler fans. Same with Ike Taylor. If only he had hands…Dwayne Woodruff
    OL-John Kolb
    QB-Neil O’Donnell-Unfortunately remembered for an INT that was not even his fault.
    RB-John L. Williams and “Thunder Dan”
    WR-Louis Lipps

  • WB Tarleton

    Agreed, but I loved Weegie. He was not the most talented guy but he squeezed out every ounce of it when on the field. A great “effort” guy.

  • LucasY59

    Jason Gildon, a guy I dont hear a lot about when talking about the great Steelers OLBs Lloyd, Greene, Porter, Harrison will always be brought up before Gildon, but it wasnt till last season the James broke his franchise record for career sacks

    and I only halfway payed attention to him when he was with the team (so even fans like me mightve underated him) and because he played opposite guys like Lloyd and Porter it was kinda easy to forget about him, but this article he was the 1st that came to mind

  • LucasY59

    another guy from that played during the time that Gildon played that I liked was Lee Flowers, I dont think he was underated, but was a guy l liked watching make hits in the secondary (again this was during a time when my attention was not all that detailed and other than during the time the game was on the TV I didnt really think about the Steelers or players on the team, so both guys could have some obvious reasons for not being as well remembered) Kordell was another guy during that time that I understand why he isnt remembered as fondly, but me and my limited knowledge of the game at that time he was another of my favs, obviously Bettis was the best player during those yrs and is one of my all time favorite players, but thinking back to my early jr high and high school days those were the only players I have much memory of, and like I said looking back at Gildon’s stats make me think he was underated

  • capehouse

    I’m a huge Foster fan too, and no one has ever run behind that line like he did in ’92. Thompson had 2 100-yard games in ’93, Bam Morris had 2 more in ’94 and again in ’95, as well as Erric Pegram with 2 in ’95 too, but Foster had 12 100-yard games in ’92 which is still a club record. Bettis had 10 100-yard games his first year with us, Franco’s highest was 7 his rookie year with a 14 game season and Bell had 6 last year.

  • Rocksolid20

    Brooks played in a 4-3 outside spot .

  • capehouse

    Loved DJ Johnson. That #44 and he’d wear one of those tinted visors, either yellow or black.

  • whatchawhozeit

    One name I see missing from the comments is Dan Kreider. He was key to the running game for years…

    Also, another vote for Ike. He will never get the love he deserves from the fans due to his lack of hands.

  • Brenton deed

    He played inside and the on his last year of contract he moved outside ( Lloyd must’ve gotten injured?) and he exploded. His value then climbed above what the Steelers had budgeted for.
    In a similar way that’s what led to the loss of Faneca – a sudden increase in his market value – although I don’t know what caused that increase because everyone knew how good he was.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    So did Ham. That was a terrible clerical error on my part. Lol. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    David Little and Keith Willis were guys I appreciated for keeping the Steelers somewhat competitive during some of the lean years. They were very good players.

  • MP34

    I remember reading something back in the 90s about the raw deal he got coming out of Kentucky. With the style he kept, the hairstyle, headbands, visors, etc, his coaches thought he was a trouble-child, and he slid in the draft due to UK coaches talking badly of his character. He was a model citizen here, good teammate, and a nice guy with the media.

  • SouthernSteel

    You read my Lipps!! My first favorite Steeler! He had some moves! Just wished he played a few more years!

  • SouthernSteel

    And how many pick sixes!

  • Big White

    five

  • Dan Peck

    I read this discussion just to see who would list Ike. He shut down many great receivers. And could also tackle. Wish we had him now.

  • AndyR34

    Thumbs up (👍🏻) for the Andy Russell mention!

  • VaDave

    We had some major sal cap issue then,

  • VaDave

    Great list. Can I add Gerry Mullins?

  • VaDave

    Not to mention a team Captain for a boatload of years. Also one of the few pre Noll era players to stick around.

  • VaDave

    Strelzic ( sorry about the spelling) was a huge contributor on the OL during that decade as well. And brother, that was the best OL I’ve seen in a long time.

  • VaDave

    Do you remember that we traded Dial for a draft pick? We drafted a stiff named Scott Appleton with the pick who refused to play with the Steelers. He was John Elway before John Elway… not bad for a lineman…. I think his pro football career lasted about 2 years.. And we dis Colbert on a repeated basis?

  • VaDave

    Wow, you’ve got some miles on you… lol! You may be the senior member here.

  • VaDave

    Nottie Pine! For as small as he was, the dude could hit! He was a good punt returner too. Good call.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Great article; lot’s of good folks mentioned. I will chip in Ray Mansfield who began the great run of Steelers centers and Sam Davis another stalwart lineman.

  • Ken

    Jimmy Smith WR

  • newguy68

    There’s always room for none with the nickname of “Moon”!