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The NFL Draft: Part II – The Steelers’ Bountiful Harvests: Measuring Draft Success by Hall of Fame Inductees

In Part I we looked at the influences of the Steeler organization on the evolution of the NFL Draft. In this Part II, we examine the ultimate measure of a successful draft selection: induction of that player into the NFL Hall of Fame.

In the "Modern Era" of the NFL (1970 to present) the Draft has shrunk several times. From 1970 to 1976 there were 17 rounds; 12 rounds until 1993 when it dropped to 8 rounds, with the current Draft of 7 rounds beginning in 1994.

Since 1970, there have been 70 players inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, none of whom started their career after 1995. Of these 70 players, the Steelers lay claim to 10 of them, twice the number of the next closest team, the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, in the Modern Era, only the Steelers can boast of having multiple players from the same draft class inducted into the HOF: 1970 (Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount) and 1974.

In 1974, in what could be argued as the greatest single draft by any team in any sport, the Steelers, picking 23rd out of 26 teams, in just its first four selections (out of 16 picks in 17 rounds), landed the following future Hall of Famers:

  • Round 1 - Lynn Swann, WR
  • Round 2 - Jack Lambert, LB
  • No Pick, having traded it in 1973 to Oakland for Glen Ray Hines, Tackle, who retired in 1974. Raiders used the pick to select Mark van Eeghen
  • Round 4 - John Stallworth, WR
  • Round 5 - Mike Webster, C

Only one other player in the 1974 Draft class has been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Dave Casper, WR for the Oakland Raiders.

Out of the 19 positions attributed to the inductees since 1970, RB's (Running Backs) are the most represented, with 10, followed closely by QB's, LB's and WR's, each with 8. Of the 10 Steelers inducted, only 7 positions are represented: with 2 each - LB's (Jack Ham, Jack Lambert), WR's(John Stallworth, Lynn Swann), and C's,(Mike Webster, Dermontii Dawson); and Position representative each - QB (Terry Bradshaw), CB (Mel Blount), HB (Franco Harris) and DB (Rod Woodson). Ironically, 6 out of the 10 Steelers are Offensive players, despite the Steelers long and storied reputation as a Defensive team .

As would be expected, the vast majority of players inducted into the HOF were first round selections, with 47 (67%) of all inductees since the 1970 Draft Class having been drafted in the first round of their respective draft class. For the League as a whole, there is a precipitous drop off for 2nd round draftees, with only 15.7% of such being inducted, followed by 8.6% for 3rd rounders', 4.3% for 4th rounders, and only 1.4% of inductees were drafted in the 5th round or later (the highest draft round inductee is Richard Dent, who was drafted in the 8th round of the 1983 draft class, which is also the richest draft class in terms of HOF'ers, with 7 inductees). Since the 1970 draft class, there has been no 6th round selection inducted into the HOF.

The Steelers on the other hand, showing once again the elite nature of their drafting abilities, have a more balanced breakdown between draft classes, with 5 (50%) of their inductees being 1st round selections, followed by 2 (20%) being 2nd round selections, and 1 each (10%) for 3rd, 4th, and 5th round selections.

Would you be surprised to learn that the state with the most HOF inductees is....with 29 native sons inducted...Pennsylvania? With such notable players as Jack Butler, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Russ Grimm, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and many others,as well as Art and Dan Rooney, it's no wonder that Pennsylvania, and Western PA in particular, has been, and continues to be considered the "football factory" region of the country. The Steelers can lay claim to four of the 29: Jack Butler, Art and Dan Rooney, and Jack Ham. Much to their chagrin, and empty spaces in the Lombardi Trophy case, the Steelers had a chance to select native son Dan Marino, but didn't, and actually had Johnny Unitas on their roster, but foolishly cut him prior to the 1955 season.

The 70 inductees since 1970 were drafted from a total of 47 different schools, with Pennsylvania claiming 2 out of the top 6 HOF producing schools: Pitt has the most with 6, followed by Alabama (4) and Louisiana Tech, Miami (FL), USC and Penn State closely following with 3 each. The Steelers on the other hand, had their 10 inductees coming from 9 different schools, with Penn State ( 2 players - Jack Ham and Franco Harris), and USC (Lynn Swann), and Louisana Tech (Terry Bradshaw) at 1 each being part of the top 10 HOF producing schools since 1970.

In Part III, we'll take a more detailed look at the Steelers drafting successes, and busts, from 2000 onward, including a breakdown of the number of players drafted by position, by round, and the schools from which the League and the Steelers find their players.

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