Known as much for their hard-nose running as for their stellar defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers are always looking for a power back who can run between the tackles. With that in mind, they used the second round of the 2013 Draft to add 6-2, 230 lb Le’Veon Bell to their team this season. Bell, who carried the ball a whopping 382 times for Michigan State in 2012, has the strength and ability to become the next great ball carrier in Pittsburgh. So who does Bell need to beat out to crack the Steelers list of all-time great runners? Here then is a list of the top 10 running backs in franchise history.
Franco Harris (1972-1983)
Blessed to have played on some of the greatest football teams of the 70’s, Franco Harris compiled an impressive resume for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one which produced nine straight Pro Bowl appearances and eight 1,000 yards rushing seasons. The NFL rookie of the year in 1972, and the Super Bowl MVP in 1974, Franco’s tenure in Pittsburgh includes 100 total touchdowns and 11,910 rushing yards. Equally impressive in the post season, he would rush for an additional 1,556 yards and 16 touchdowns in 19 playoff games. His playing days coming to an end in 1984, Harris was induced to the Hall of Fame in 1984.
Jerome Bettis (1996-2005)
With career totals which fall just short of Franco Harris’ team record for yards rushing (10,571) and touchdowns scored (78), and currently awaiting the day when he too will be inducted into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis nevertheless turned in spectacular 10 year tenure for the Steelers. Nicknamed “The Bus,” the brushing 252 lbs Notre Dame Alumni earned four of his six trips to the Pro Bowl while in playing for Pittsburgh.
John Henry Johnson (1960-65)
The first Steeler to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, John Henry Johnson is a Hall of Famer whose six year stay in Pittsburgh produced three straight Pro Bowl seasons (1962-64). Besides posting two 1,000 yards season for the team, Johnson would finish among the NFL’s top ten ball carriers for five consecutive seasons. By the time his career with the Steelers came to a close, Johnson stood as the team’s all-time leading rusher with 4,381 yards.
Bill Dudley (1942-1946)
A multi-talented Hall of Famer who was the number one pick in the 1942 Draft, Bill Dudley led the league in rushing and all purpose yards in two (1942 and 1946) of his three seasons for the Steelers. Sandwiched in between his two NFL rushing titles were three years of service for the United States Armed Forces in World War II. He would go on to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player (1946) once he his tour of duty was up.
Willie Parker (2004-09)
Dubbed “Fast Willie” for his game breaking speed, Willie Parker was not the prototypical Steelers running back. Despite that, Parker fashioned three straight seasons of over 1,000 yards on his way to piling up 5,378 yards during his career. So effective was Parker as a ball carrier that he rushed over 100 yards in one-third of his 75 regular season games for the team, going over the 200 yard barrier in two of those games.
Barry Foster (1990-94)
Currently the team record holder for most carries (390) and yards (1690) rushing in a season, Barry Foster was a two time Pro Bowler (1992-93) whose career was cut short by injury. Still, the former fifth round draft pick from Arkansas went on to tally respectable lifetime numbers by rushing for 3,943 yards in 62 games for the team.
Rashard Mendenhall (2008-Present)
Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick in 2008, Mendenhall took all of one year to make good on his potential by surpassing the 1,000 yard barrier during his second season in the league. Upping his total to 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns by his third season, Mendenhall currently ranks ninth on the Steelers all-time list with 3,549 yards rushing during his career.
Rocky Bleier (1968-1980)
Although he wasn’t picked until the 16th round of the 1968 Draft, Bleier made a name for himself as the lead blocker for Franco Harris on the famed Steelers team of the 1970’s. Still, Bleier made a halfway decent ball carrier who complied 3,865 yards rushing in 140 games for Pittsburgh. Used a little more extensively in the second half of the 1976, Bleier responded with four 100 yard games and 1,036 yard season.
Dick Hoak (1961-1970)
Despite being a seventh round draft pick out of Penn State, Dick Hoak spent a distinguished 10 year career in a Steelers uniform in which he rushed for 3,965 yards and 25 touchdowns. Named to the Pro Bowl in 1967, Hoak would rush for a career high 858 yards a year later. The versatile halfback also completed 20 of the 40 passes he attempted, and caught another 146 passes out of the backfield.
Fran Rogel (1950-57)
A hard nose fullback who made the Pro Bowl in 1955, Fran Rogel was a steady workhorse for the Steelers during the 50’s. Over 50 years later and he still ranks 11th on the Steelers all-time list with 3,271 yards in 900 carries. An apt pass receiver, Rogel gained another 1,087 yards on 150 receptions.