The Pittsburgh Steelers live and die by the NFL draft. An organization that rarely plunges into the free agent market prides itself on developing and molding players into greatness. In this article, we look back at the five best and five worst draft selections in in Steelers’ History.
Furthermore, I want to be clear about my list for the five best as you won’t see the five best players in Steelers’ history, but the five best draft selections. You also won’t see players like Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Greene who coming out of college were highly touted as the next big thing at their respective position.
The Steelers selected Lloyd 150th overall in the sixth round of the 1987 Draft out of Fort Valley State. Lloyd would go on to become not only one of the best, but also one of the most feared linebackers of the 1990s. In a seven-season span from 1989 to 1995, Lloyd missed only four starts and compiled 48.5 sacks. Lloyd was selected to the Pro Bowl five times and was three times named a First-Team All-Pro.
Lloyd was an immediate fan favorite in Pittsburgh for his blue collar, take no prisoners mentality. Lloyd became a leader of the Pittsburgh defense that reached, and eventually lost Super Bowl XXX to the Cowboys. The only thing that holds Lloyd back from all the other players on this list is that he never won a Super Bowl in his 10 seasons with the Steelers. Still, he was a great catch in the sixth round for Pittsburgh.
The Steelers selected Ward, a wide receiver and quarterback from Georgia, with the 92nd pick in the third round of the 1998 Draft. He fell to the Steelers and put together a 14-year career with the team that ended with his retirement after the 2011 season. Ward holds team records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl four times and was named a Second-Team All-Pro three times.
Ward’s most successful year statistically came in 2001 when he caught a career-high 112 passes. He won Super Bowls XL and XLIII with the Steelers, earning Super Bowl MVP honors for his performance in Super Bowl XL. Ward was a tough, versatile and heartless player, and is known for as many hard hits as great catches. On top of that, he never stopped smiling and was widely respected throughout the league for being a complete player. Ward will always be one of the most beloved Steelers of all time.
In the third round of the 1970 draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Mel Blount 53rd overall, a cornerback from Southern University. Blount would go on to become one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time as he started for 14 years and won four Super Bowl victories in Pittsburgh. Blount was widely respected throughout the league as he never started less than nine games in each of his 14 seasons.
Most important, Blount played physical, as much as he was respected, he was equally feared throughout the league which prompted the NFL to create the “Mel Blount Rule” which enforced stricter pass interference penalties. Blount went on to become a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time First-Team All-Pro Selection. Furthermore, Blount was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1975 after recording 11 interceptions and for his career, Blount would record 57 interceptions. In 1989, Blount was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of four Pittsburgh defensive players from the 1970s enshrined in Canton.
Greenwood was selected 238th overall out of Arkansas AM&N in the 10th round of the 1969 Draft, Where he would spend his entire 13-year career in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh defenses on which Greenwood played on were among and arguably the the best in NFL history. He suited up for all four of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl wins in the 1970s.
Even though sacks weren’t exactly calculated like they are today, Greenwood is listed as having racked up 73.5 sacks over his career. A pretty impressive feat considering who he played alongside with on every play who was also killing the quarterback. Greenwood will always be remembered for wearing his signature gold cleats. Over his career, Greenwood was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and named a First-Team All-Pro twice.
The Steelers took Webster with the 125th overall pick in the fifth round of the 1974 Draft. Webster went on to spend 15 seasons with the Steelers, the longest run of any player in franchise history. He is widely considered the best center not just with the Steelers, but ever. “Iron” Mike was known for his physicality, stamina, and most important his mental toughness.
Webster rarely missed a game during his career as he became a permanent fixture on the Pittsburgh offensive line throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Webster played a vital role in the Pittsburgh victories in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. Furthermore, Webster was selected to the Pro Bowl and named an All-Pro nine times during his career and in 1997, Webster was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With Terry Bradshaw’s career winding down after four Super Bowls, Pittsburgh focused their efforts on finding a replacement for Bradshaw in 1980. They selected Mark Malone with the last pick in the first round. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Malone failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him.
After eight seasons with the Steelers, Malone was traded to the San Diego Chargers as Pittsburgh decided hesitantly to move on with Bubby Brister and then Neil O’Donnell. Pittsburgh didn’t pick another quarterback in the first round until 2004 when they chose Ben Roethlisberger, who as we know has not only lived up to Bradshaw’s legacy with the franchise, but has arguably become the best quarterback in franchise history.
With the exception of Lynn Swann, wide receivers in the first round have never really worked out for the Steelers. Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress both of which had some good years in Pittsburgh, unfortunately had their careers cut short for various reasons.
Furthermore, no receiver that has been selected in the first round of the Steelers has been a bigger bust than, Troy Edwards. Edwards had a short stint of three years with the Steelers as his best contribution came as a return man. Special teams specialists are usually found in the latter rounds of the NFL draft, which became one of the main components for his early departure.
After a stellar college career for North Carolina A&T, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Stephens in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft. Despite the lofty expectations placed on him by the Steelers, Stephens will always be remembered by Steelers fans for an incident that occurred on July 30, 1999 the first day of Steelers training camp. That day, Stephens reported to camp overweight by 40 pounds and failed miserably on the 40-yard runs that were a tradition on the first day of camp under Bill Cowher. Stephens practically collapsed during the drills and Cowher who was known for his zero tolerance was so disgusted by this embarrassing display that he cut Stephens hours later.
Not drafting Dan Marino
Art Rooney wanted Dan Marino badly in 1983, however there was a major concern that Marino also known as the “snowman” at the University of Pittsburgh was believed to be into drugs. The Steelers, led by Rooney have always taken a no nonsense, low tolerance path with troubled players which leads to why the Steelers passed on Marino in favor of Gabe Rivera. Rivera, a defensive linemen, was highly touted out of college and was also a solid pick for the Steelers. Unfortunately for the Steelers, his career was tragically cut short by an accident that left him paralyzed.
Pittsburgh needed a quarterback, but subsequently passed on Marino who went on to become one of the most prolific passers of the 1980s and 1990s. Had Marino been selected by the Steelers, it’s hard to imagine how many Lombardi trophies would be in the Steelers organization.
In today’s society, a Pittsburgh team or any team for that matter wouldn’t pass on that type of talent and instead would take the best player available and use their system to mold and develop these players into greatness on and off the field.
The Entire 2008 Draft class
It’s rare when a team completely drops the ball on an entire draft class. That being said, the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to do just that in 2008. Since Tomlin’s arrival in Pittsburgh, of the 59 draft selections he has been involved with, 27 remain on the team.
Here’s a look at that class for Pittsburgh: Rashard Mendenhall, Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis, Tony Hills, Dennis Dixon, Mike Humpal, and Ryan Mundy. While Mendenhall had a couple of good seasons with the Steelers, he wasn’t the north south runner the Steelers were looking for and had a hard time holding onto the football. In the end, it was his mouth that put him in hot water with personnel, fellow players, and fans. Combine that with his lackluster play in 2011 quickly got him a one way ticket out of town.
Of the seven draft selections, only Mundy with the Giants, Hills with the Raiders, Dixon with the Bills, and Mendenhall with the Cardinals remain in the league. Limas Sweed’s career ended before it started as the only thing he ever caught in the NFL was the injury bug. Bruce Davis’ conversion to linebacker failed miserably as he never caught on and was out of the league rather quickly. Mike Humpal was cut during training camp and never resurfaced on another team.
So there it is, our five best and worst draft selections in Steelers’ history. Please feel free to share your input and players you think should have made this list.