The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America named Najee Harris winner of the Joe Green Great Performance award or the Steelers rookie of the year for 2021.
Anyone who wins an award named after Joe Greene is automatically in good company, but the subsequent careers of other Steelers rookies of the year are checkered. Most, though not all, turned out to be productive football players.
Some grew into the Super stars they were supposed to be, while others saw their contributions eclipsed by other members of their draft classes. Click below to drive into each group.
One Year Wonders
1986, LB Anthony Henton – Who? Exactly my response. Played two years, started 4 games but did nothing of note. This ninth round pick was clearly out classed by 1986’s 2nd round pick Gerald Williams.
1987, CB Delton Hall – A second round pick who started gang busters only to fade. Started more fights than games (4) following his rookie year.
1994, RB Bam Morris – The man who made Barry Foster expendable. Did have a decent sophomore season, but got busted for drugs shortly after Super Bowl XXX.
1999, WR Troy Edwards – Grabbed 61 balls as a rookie, but never developed after that, perhaps in part to his “I can’t race air” attitude to training.
2001, LB Kendrell Bell – Wreaked havoc as a rookie. Injuries marred his second season and after that the word was that he scoffed at learning coverages or schemes
2008, LB Patrick Bailey – Made it in 2008 due to special teams but got cut less than a year later due to the 2009 Steelers atrocious special teams.
2012, OT Mike Adams – After a handful of solid games as the starting right tackle in 2012, the Steelers tried to move him to left tackle in 2013 with disastrous results.
2016, S Sean Davis – Davis had a phenomenal rookie year and strong start to his sophomore campaigns but the rest of his career was marred by position changes and injuries.
Productive, but Still Disappointing
1985, P Harry Newsome – Really, there was nothing wrong with Newsome, but when a punter is the best pick from your draft classs, that’s a disappointment.
1990, TE Eric Green – Green’s numbers were pretty good, by any standard. But my God, this man was supposed to be Gronk before there was Gronk. Instead his final year in Pittsburgh was marked by his tendency for running out of bounds.
1991, TE Adrian Cooper – Injuries in 1991 and a Green drug suspension in 1992 allowed Cooper to flash promise. But excusing a subpar 1993 campaign because of his contract situation earned him a ticket on the first bus to Minnesota.
1995, QB Kordell Stewart – A tremendous athlete, but as a quarterback he simply could not cope with the pressures of being a starter
1997, CB Chad Scott – Started as a rookie, then missed his entire second year due to injury. Many felt he should have played safety. He earned (and deserved) a 2nd contract but was never popular with fans.
2009, WR Mike Wallace –Roethlisberger and Wallace essentially rewrote the Steelers long passing play records in 2010, but that’s the problem. Wallace never grew beyond being a “One Trick Pony” and could never repeat his production in the playoffs.
2014, WR Martavis Bryant – He followed his stunning rookie year with a series of suspensions and “I want mines” Twitter tantrums. In between, he authored several excellent games that reminded everyone just how good he could have been.
2018, S Terrell Edmunds – It isn’t Edmunds fault that he was over drafted. And if it is true that he’s been a consistent player that has improved steadily, he still hasn’t been the play maker the Steelers needed.
Solid But Over Taken by Other Rookies
1988, RB Warren Williams – A dependable number two back, who belonged in the rotation back in the days when both the halfback and the fullback got carries. Still, he was eclipsed by both Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson and John Jackson
1992, FS Darren Perry – His development in training camp led the Steelers to cut Thomas Everett. Had a good career, but Leon Searcy, Joel Steed, and Levon Kirkland all grew into more prominent roles with the team
1996, FB Jon Witman – A solid full back whose running capabilities never were truly explored. Linebackers Earl Holmes and Carlos Emmons ended up being the most prominent members of the Steelers 1996 draft class
2002, OG Kendall Simmons – Stepped right up and started as a rookie, but multiple injuries and diabetes really limited his career. Antwaan Randle El, Larry Foote, and Brett Keisel surpassed his contribution as a member of the Steelers 2002 draft class.
2007, P Daniel Sepulveda – After a strong rookie year injuries hit Sepulveda hard and fellow 2007 draftees Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and William Gay outshone him.
2011, OT Marcus Gilbert – Marcus Gilbert had a solid career until injuries set in, but Cam Heyward is clearly the cream of the Steelers 2011 Draft Class.
2017, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – Smith-Schuster followed up his rookie campaign with a team MVP performance in 2018 but the real star of the Steelers 2017 Draft Class is T.J. Watt.
They Budded into Super Stars
1984, WR Louis Lipps — He gave John Stallworth a second wind. Perhaps he wasn’t a “Great” receiver, coming of age during the days of Jerry Rice, but still a very, very good player.
1989, SS Carnell Lake — One of the true gems from the Steelers 1989 draft class. Saved not one but two seasons by moving from safety to corner. An all-around great player and class-act
1993, LB Chad Brown — Brown set the mold for the super athletic inside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 scheme, and then excelled during 1996 when injuries to Greg Lloyd forced him to move outside.
1998, OG Alan Faneca – A true Hall of Famer who anchored the Steelers offensive line for a decade and threw the key block on Willie Parker’s 75 yard run in Super Bowl XL.
2000, FB Dan Kreider – Never a Pro Bowler or All-Pro, but he was the best blocking fullback of his day, giving Pittsburgh the equivalent of a 6th offensive lineman on the field.
2003, S Troy Polamalu – A Hall of Famer, a true generational talent and a rare defensive player who could and did transform the course of a game with one play.
2004, QB Ben Roethlisberger – The definition of a Hall of Famer and the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Ben did it his way from start to finish and was downright deadly in the 4th quarter.
2005, TE Heath Miller – The best tight end in Steelers history, who quietly excelled in blocking while being almost automatic as a receiver.
2006, WR Santonio Holmes – Never quite a game-changing talent, he made the catch of his life in Super Bowl XLIII, earning him MVP honors.
2010, C Maurkice Pouncey – 9 Pro Bowls, 2 All Pro Awards 134 games and 134 starts – all after losing nearly two complete seasons to injuries.
2013, RB Le’Veon Bell – Yes, he authored an unceremonious departure from Pittsburgh, but broke rushing records that neither Franco Harris nor Jerome Bettis nor John Henry Johnson ever touched.
2015, LB Bud Dupree – Dupree was a late bloomer, but his play opposite of T.J. Watt in 2019 and 2020 made those Steelers defenses outright lethal.
Jury Still Out
2019, LB Devin Bush – Bush had a strong rookie year and was off to a good start in 2020 before tearing his ACL. Whether it was because of his ACL or something else, he did not play well in 2021.
2020, WR Chase Claypool – Chase Claypool dazzled as a rookie, but was consistent in his second season. He has the raw talent, but his attitude and commitment are open to question.
2021, RB Najee Harris – Running behind a horrendous offensive line, Harris always gave it his all and always found ways to shine.