The Pittsburgh Steelers have the richest history of defensive play in the entire history of the NFL.  Narrowing it down to fifteen of the best Steelers defenders of all time is not an easy task.  Full disclosure, there will be no current members of the team to make the list.  Players like TJ Watt, and Minka Fitzpatrick may be well on their way, but haven’t done it over a long enough period of time.  With that said lets begin the list of the top 15 Steelers defenders of all time.

15.  Jason Gildon – OLB (1994-2003)

Jason Gildon was the all-time sack leader for a brief time in Steelers history.  His 80 career sacks aren’t the most any longer, but still good enough for second overall.  Gildon had three Pro-Bowl appearances, and one All-Pro in 1991.

14.  Kevin Green – OLB (1993-1995)

If not for such a short stay with the team, Kevin Green would be much higher on this list.  The former Steelers outside linebacker is easily one of the best pass rushers to ever wear the black and gold.  Green is third all time in sacks for the entire league with 160.  Five Pro-Bowl selections, and three All-Pros are good enough to crack any team’s top 15 list.

13.  Jack Butler – CB (1951-1959)

One of the best corners in Steelers history, Jack Butler comes in at lucky number thirteen on our list.  Butler is second all time in Steelers history in interceptions with 52.  A feat made even more impressive given the fact he played during the run happy days of the 50s NFL.  Butler is a four time All-Pro, and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

12.  Andy Russell – LB (1966-1976)

Andy Russell was an early member of the famed Steel-Curtain defenses of the 1970s.  He was named Steelers defensive player of the year in 1971, and considering all the talent around him that is quite an accomplishment.  Russell made seven Pro-Bowl appearances in his ten years with the club.  More importantly he was a key member of two championships for Pittsburgh in Super Bowls IX and X.

11.  Donnie Shell – S (1974-1987)

Donnie Shell finally got his Hall of Fame invite in 2020 after years of being over looked.  A key cog in the Steel Curtain defenses, he was a part of all four Super Bowl titles.  Shell remains third in team history with 51 interceptions.  That, and his five Pro-Bowl appearances are more than enough to be in the thick of this list.

10.  Ernie Stautner – DT (1950-1963)

Despite what you might think, Steelers history did not begin in 1970.  Ernie Stautner was one of the best defensive tackles of the 1950s.  Being a nine time Pro-Bowler at defensive tackle was even more amazing considering he played at only 230lbs.  Stautner suffers from being a part of some bad Steelers teams during that era.  This NFL Hall of Famer deserves to be ranked in the top ten for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Read more about him here

9.  Gregg Lloyd – OLB (1988-1997)

When it comes to intimidating demeanors, there may not be a better example in Steelers history this side of Lambert and Green.  He was the emotional leader of the team’s great 90s defenses.  Lloyd had 54 career sacks, 24 forced fumbles, and 11 interceptions during his ten year Steeler career.  Through in five Pro-bowls, three All-Pros, and the 1994 AFC defensive player of the year, and you have one hell of a player.

8.  L.C. Greenwood – DL (1969-1981)

L.C. Greenwood may not have gotten quite as much fan fare of some the more famous members of the Steel Curtain defense, but he should have.  Greenwood’s career highlights are nothing short of amazing.  He takes a backseat to no one with his four Super Bowl titles, six Pro-Bowls, two All-Pros, being a member of the NFL all-seventies team, and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.  Those kind of accomplishments would be good enough for number one on most team’s lists, but not in Pittsburgh.

7.  Rod Woodson – CB (1987-1996)

Rod Woodson was one of the best pure athlete’s to ever play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In college, he was an All-American in track and field as well as in football.  In the pros, he was arguably the best corner of his era.  This list of accomplishments is almost too much too mention:

  • 11x Pro-Bowls
  •  6x First team All-Pro
  • NFL Defensive player of the Year 1993
  • 2 time interception leader 1999,2002
  • NFL 100th anniversary team
  • Pittsburgh Steelers All Time team

These are credentials that land Rod Woodson easily in the top ten of all time Steelers defenders.

6.  James Harrison – OLB (2004-2012,2014-2017)

Steelers fans still have a sour taste in their mouths after the way James Harrison left the team in 2017.  However, it does not change the fact he was one of the greatest players in team history.  The former undrafted player from Kent St. scratched and clawed his way to an incredible career.  Two Super Bowls, 5 Pro-Bowls, 2 first team All-Pros, and the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year are all testaments to a great career.

Let’s also not forget perhaps the greatest single play in Super Bowl history:

5.  Mel Blount – CB (1970-1983)

How does a player like Rod Woodson not become the greatest cornerback in team history?  When you have a player like Mel Blount in your stable as well, thats how.  Blount was so dominant in the early 70s, the NFL created a coverage rule to limit the harassment of receivers, and named it after him.  He has all the accolades of Woodson, and four Super Bowl trophies on top of that.

4.  Troy Polamalu – S (2003-2014)


Easily one of the most exciting players to ever play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Top five most exciting Steelers players of all time

It was much more than just flash with this player however.  Polamalu was one of the most dominant safeties of his era.  His 770 career tackles, 32 interceptions, 12 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, and 3 touchdowns from a safety prove his versatility.

Then we get into his accomplishments, and it is no less impressive.  Two Super Bowls, 8 Pro-Bowls, 4 first team All-Pros, and the 2010 NFL defensive player of the year are as good as any defensive player during that time frame.  Polamalu is one of the best Steelers defenders to ever put on the jersey.

3.  Jack Ham – LB (1971-1982)

Mean Joe Green and Jack Lambert got the majority of the pub for the Steel Curtain Steelers of the 70s, but Jack Ham was no less important.  Ham’s list of accomplishments are as impressive as any:

  • 4x Super Bowl champion
  • 8x Pro-Bowls
  • 6x First team All-Pro
  • NFL defensive player of the year 1975
  • NFL 75th Anniversary team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary team
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade team

Ham was one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, let alone Steelers history. Top ten linebackers in Steelers history: Version two

2.  Jack Lambert – LB (1974-1984)

When it comes to Steelers defenders, there may be no more iconic image then the toothless snarl of Jack Lambert.  On a squad full of talent, Lambert stood out as a dominant force in the middle of the defense.  His remarkable achievements are the stuff of legends:

  • 4x Super Bowl champion
  • 9x Pro-Bowls
  • 6x first team All-Pro
  • NFL defensive player of the year 1976
  • NFL defensive rookie of the year 1974
  • Member of the NFL 75th anniversary team
  • Member of the NFL 100th anniversary team
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade team
  • NFL 1980a All-Decade team

On any other team, a resume like that would easily find you the number one spot. But in Pittsburgh...

1.  Joe Greene – DT (1969-1981)

Joe Greene is one of the best defensive players in the history of football, let alone just the Steelers.  His intimidating presence led to the famous nickname “Mean Joe Green”.  The list of accolades is a long, and remarkable one:

  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • 10x Pro-Bowl
  • 5x first team All-Pro
  • NFL man of the Year 1979
  • NFL defensive Rookie of the Year 1969
  • 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year 1972,1974
  • Member of the NFL 75th Anniversary team
  • Member of the NFL 100th Anniversary team

Being number one on the list of greatest Steelers defenders is really saying something.  Pittsburgh’s rich history of great defenses is second to none, and Joe Greene is the best of the best in that illustrious group.