Unforgettable: The Top 10 Steelers Draft Moments of All Time

Joe LawrenceContributor IApril 11, 2009

The NFL Draft is appropriately held in spring, the season in which optimism abounds. Fans of losing teams are excited about getting a top prospect or perhaps a franchise savior. Devotees of winners are a little less excited, but they can hope that the final piece of the puzzle is found somewhere in the lower half.

Of course, Jets fans will moan and groan no matter who is taken by their club.

Having yelled “Sixburgh!” for the past two months now, Steeler Nation will soon receive another reward (of sorts) for winning the Super Bowl: the 32nd overall pick. How the team will fare with this selection is anyone’s guess.

A look at prior drafts shows that there are no guarantees in the Draft, and that position means little if not used properly.

Let's peek into the past with the Top Ten Steeler Draft Moments of the modern era:


10. The Signs Were There

In 2000, Pittsburgh had the eighth overall pick, their highest since 1989.

Steeler quarterback Kordell Stewart was struggling, which some attributed to the lack of a deep-threat receiver. So, despite scouting reports of attitudinal problems and a missed dinner meeting with Bill Cowher during the NFL Combine, the Steelers used their selection on Michigan State’s Plaxico Burress, though Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington was on the board and fell to the New York Jets.

A physically gifted player, Burress was inconsistent, bone-headed and failed to step up in big games. Long before Burress shot himself in the thigh, the Steelers shot themselves in the foot with that pick.


9. Twice Bitten

In 1989, the Steelers had two picks in the first round, the seventh and 24th overall. The selection of disappointing RB Tim Worley and OT Tom Ricketts shows that sometimes it's better to trade down instead of reaching based on need.


8. Trading Up Can Pay Off Big

When a team with a supply of picks does its homework, moving up can bear fruit. Such was the case in 2003, when Pittsburgh moved from 27th to 16th and grabbed Troy Polamalu, one of Ken Colbert’s best draft day moves since replacing Tom Donahoe.

Also, trading up in 2006 to select Santonio Holmes paid dividends in Super Bowl XLIII.

But on the flip side, moving up to take Ricardo Colclough from tiny Tusculum College did not pan out. Still, Colbert has shown that he’s an astute dealmaker.


7. Sometimes a Reach Is Not a Reach

Art Rooney Jr. scouted Franco Harris, better known in 1972 as Lydell Mitchell’s blocking back at Penn State. Chuck Noll preferred Robert Newhouse, a fullback from Houston with 32” thighs. Somehow, Rooney persuaded that Noll that Harris was their guy.

The selection of Harris, although controversial at the time, can now be easily summed up: Without him, there'd be no Immaculate Reception.

Need I say more?


6. 1983

With four Super Bowls in the rear view mirror, the team hoped to rebuild the "Steel Curtain" with monstrous DT Gabriel “Senor Sack” Rivera from Texas Tech with the 21st overall pick. Meanwhile, Pitt QB Dan Marino was still available on the board.

Rivera’s tragic and career-ending car accident was an unlucky break for him and the Steelers, but passing on Marino was almost as regrettable.

Of course, Terrible Towel wavers can still take heart that 20-plus teams drafting ahead of the Dolphins (at 27th) made the same mistake.


5. Ben Comes in Third

In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger fell to the Steelers at the 11th spot. Many draft experts had Roethlisberger headed to the Giants, predicting that Phillip Rivers would be the QB available for the Black and Gold.

Buffalo Bills GM Tom Donahoe attempted trade up into Houston’s spot (10th) to thwart the Steelers, but the Texans were committed to CB Dunta Robinson, and Buffalo’s attempt failed.

Bill Cowher was reportedly interested in OT Shaun Andrews, but in a rare move, Dan Rooney intervened, not wanting to repeat the mistake of 1983 when they passed on Marino.


4. The Bus Comes to the 'Burgh

In what would be Tom Donahoe’s finest moment with the Steelers, Jerome Bettis was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams for a second rounder and fourth rounder. Rams head coach Rich Brooks was disenchanted with Bettis and enamored with running back Lawrence Phillips of Nebraska.

Funny that Phillips lasted fewer than two seasons with the Rams, while the Bus...

Well, we all know how that turned out. Today, Brooks is coaching in the collegiate ranks, and Jerome is headed for the Hall of Fame.


3. What If Jerome Made the Call?

It was "heads or tails" for the right to pick Terry Bradshaw with the first overall pick in the 1970 Draft. The Steelers won the toss in Pete Rozelle’s office, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The team that lost the toss, Chicago, traded the second overall pick to Green Bay. Bradshaw and Mel Blount (third round) became the only Hall of Famers to emerge from that class.


2. Class of '71

The '71 class ranks as one of the Steelers' all-time greats. Art Rooney Jr. and Chuck Noll were hitting on all cylinders when they landed four starters for the vaunted Steel Curtain defense: Jack Ham, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, and Mike Wagner.

Oh, and they picked up TE Larry Brown to boot, who became an integral part of the ground game at offensive tackle.


1. Class of '74

Widely regarded as the finest draft in NFL history, the Steelers’ class of 1974 produced four eventual Hall of Fame players in its first five picks.

Although Lynn Swann was the Steelers' first pick that year, it can be argued that the real steals of the draft were Jack Lambert in the second round and John Stallworth in the fourth.

The Steelers had “misplaced” Stallworth’s collegiate highlights film and failed to forward it to other teams; otherwise, he most certainly would have been snapped up in the first round.


No one, including the Steelers, knows how this year’s draft will turn out. And even once April 27 rolls around, we'll still be unsure as to the real impacts of the picks. Determining that will take years.


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