The following is another in a series that picks a Steelers All-Modern Era Team. Players were considered based on having careers with the Steelers from 1992 until the present. The All-Modern Era team is made up of 26 players – 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and four specialists.
Hines Ward, the Steelers' All-Time Leading Wide Receiver.
TODAY: Wide Receivers**
The Steelers believe in running the football. Always have. That's what they believe a championship offense must be able to do, and each of their losing seasons since 1992 had them forget that to varying degrees. But even with that, this team has deployed some talented wide receivers in the last 22 years.
Two, however, stand above the rest. Hines Ward and Antonio Brown.
Ward owns every significant career receiving record in franchise history, and his physical presence on the field was perfect for the demeanor with which the Steelers always desire to play. If there ever was going to be a receiver who would be the namesake of a rule designed to prevent a guy who catches the ball for a living from hitting a big, bad linebacker too hard, that receiver was Ward.
Ward has credentials that deserve consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but what Brown is doing right now is unprecedented for any Steelers receiver ever. In 2014, he was the most productive receiver in the NFL, which is another way of saying Antonio Brown was the best receiver in the NFL.
Top photos of wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Last year, Brown led the NFL in catches with 129 and yards with 1,698, and his 13 touchdowns were second only to Dez Bryant's 16, but Brown caught 41 more passes for 378 more yards. The 129 for 1,698 and 13 all were single-season franchise records in those categories, and Brown also finished the year as the NFL's leading third-down receiver in both catches and yards.
OTHERS TO CONSIDER
Another talented receiver who impacted Steelers history was the player the team traded up in the first round of the 2006 draft to select: SANTONIO HOLMES. With Plaxico Burress having left via free agency following the 2004 season, and Antwaan Randle El having the chance to cash in via free agency on the heels of his contributions to the victory in Super Bowl XL, the Steelers found themselves with Ward and former undrafted rookie Nate Washington as the receivers at the top of their depth chart.
The Steelers, picking 32nd in the round, found a trading partner in the New York Giants and moved up to No. 25 where they selected Holmes, the first receiver to be picked in the 2006 draft. As a rookie, Holmes' 49 receptions was second on the team to Ward's 74; he again was second on the team in catches in 2007, but his eight touchdowns were one more than Ward and Heath Miller; and in 2008 Holmes capped a middling regular season with three touchdowns in the playoffs, a performance highlighted by his nine receptions for 131 yards and the game-deciding score in Super Bowl XLIII. Holmes' four-year career in Pittsburgh ended with 235 receptions; by comparison Brown caught 239 passes in 2013-14.
YANCEY THIGPEN is the guy who was the first receiver from the Steelers modern era to break the single-season franchise records for catches and yards. In 1995, Thigpen caught 85 passes to break John Stallworth's record of 80 from 1984, and then in 1997 Thigpen's 1,398 yards was barely enough to pass Stallworth's 1,395, also posted in 1984.
PLAXICO BURRESS never led the Steelers in receiving, but during the four-season span from 2001-04, he averaged 16.3 yards per catch, made a lot of big plays, and drew a bunch of interference penalties down the field.
If this was going to be a team composed of 53 players, including maybe six wide receivers, those deserving consideration after Thigpen and Burress would be ANDRE HASTINGS and ANTWAAN RANDLE EL, both of whom were tough, possession receivers who made plays in the middle of the field; CHARLES JOHNSON, who was more dependable than spectacular; and MIKE WALLACE, a pony whose one trick was illustrated by his 17.2 average yards per reception during his time in Pittsburgh.
TOMORROW: Tight end