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Steelers Draft Classes Revisited: 1998

cgolden and I decided to take it back a few years. Our first two entries were fun, but they weren't representative of an organization that is thought of as one of the best in the business evaluating talent. Perhaps no year is more indicative of the Steelers' prowess finding talent than 1998. Kevin Colbert was not yet part of the team then. Tom Donahoe was in charge, and the work he did with Mr. Rooney and Coach Cowher that year was mighty impressive. Enjoy.

cgolden and Blitz

Round 1, 26th pick - Alan Faneca, G LSU

Well fellas, they just don't get much better than this. We all know that Faneca is a 7-time Pro Bowler and 5 time All Pro Selection and that for much of career he's been arguably the best in the business at this position. He hasn't missed a game since 2001 and has only not started 7 games in his 10 year career, most of those coming his rookie year (4).

Alan and his wife should sadly
(for us fans) hear where they
will be starting their new life
any day now.

He has made 96 consecutive starts at left guard. The Steelers have had three different leading rushers and four different leading passers in his career but he been the constant leader along the offensive line. Faneca, the 26th overall selection in the 1998 draft should be a first ballot Hall of Fame player five years after he hangs up his cleats. He's played his final game as a Steeler but he'll always be remembered in the Black and Gold. Faneca was a true Steeler and a consummate pro. He structured his contract 3 times and switched positions when injuries ravaged the line in 2003. He will be truly missed and I feel sorry for the man that tries to fill his shoes. Grade: A+

Round 2, 41st pick - Jeremy Staat, DE Arizona State

The 41st overall selection of the 1998 draft lasted just three years with the Steelers. They traded their second round choice (56th), one of their third round (87th) and fifth round pick (149th) to move up to take the 299 pound defensive tackle. Staat started 11 games in Pittsburgh in 1999 and recorded 20 tackles. He would be in Pittsburgh from 1998 to 2000 and played a handful of games for the Rams in 2003 but his real story came after his NFL career was over. Staat was a close friend and college roommate of former Cardinal Pat Tillman. Tillman talked him out of joining the Marines shortly after the attacks on 9/11 so that he could get retirement benefits from the NFL. Staat, however, coudln't resist the call to arms and to serve. He joined the Marines after his career and was deployed to Iraq in early 2007. Grade: C

A better soldier, person, and
citizen than football player

Round 3, 66th pick - Chris Conrad, OT Fresno State

I found Conrad's 'measureables' prior to the 1998 NFL Draft:

40: 5.26; Bench press: 19; Vertical Jump: 24.5; Projected Rd: 2nd

So, we got him in the 3rd, not bad, and not a reach. How'd his career pan out with Pittsburgh? Meh, it certainly was short-lived. Conrad only played two professional seasons, both of them in Pittsburgh. He did start 1 game his rookie year and 6 in 1999. That year, Conrad was a member of an offensive line that gave up 37 sacks.  He never caught on with another team afterwards in the new millenium, despite getting several chances to make squads I believe. Grade: C

Round 3, 92nd pick - Hines Ward, WR Georgia

It's almost a waste of my and your time assesing Ward's career in Pittsburgh. There aren't enough superlatives to do it justice. Ward is a 4-time Pro-Bowler, a 3-time team MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and the franchises' career leader in receptions (719), receiving touchdowns (65), and receiving yards (8,737). Ward's by no means done either. He had a very solid 2007 when he was healthy, and with Santonio and Heath playing alongside him, there's nothing stopping him from being a 50-75 catch guy for another three or four seasons if he wants. Ward is also a fan favorite to many, including many of us here, and one of the best off-the-field guys you'll find in any city in any sport. Grade: A++

Round 4, 123rd pick - Carlos King, RB North Carolina State

The North Carolina State fullback, didn't have much of a career playing just one game in the NFL. The Steelers reached on King because the starting fullback at the time (Tim Lester) had off season shoulder surgery and wasn't expected to be ready by opening day. King was cut four games into the season to make room on the roster for another player coming back from suspension. I can't find any record on whether or not King hung on for a year or two on the practice squad but he never again appeared on a NFL roster. Grade: F

Round 4, 117th pick - Deshea Townsend, CB Alabama

Townsend has been hearing the rumors for 10 years now. You're too small (5'10 190lb) and too slow (4.60 at the combine) but all he's done is keep playing his game. He finished this season with 75 career starts for the Steelers and has played in 155 games. Townsend has 15.5 career sacks, 18 interceptions and nearly 400 tackles. He's been incredibly reliable only missing 1 game in last nine years and has contributed on special teams every year until 2007. Townsend has never been a star but he does whatever is needed of him and has had a really good career for a fourth round pick. Grade: B+

Round 5, 136th pick - Jerame Tuman, TE Michigan

Another really solid pick-up in this draft by the Steelers. Tuman never established himself as a receiving threat that defensive coordinators would even think about, but that matters not. The TE wasn't quite used the way it is now in the late 90s and early 00s and we didn't throw the ball much during his hey-day anyway. What he did do though was help the Steelers run the ball as well as any team over the course of the past ten years. Tuman finished his career with a shockingly low 43 total receptions for an even 500 yards and 7 TDs. That doesn't matter though. He was a reliable and steady player for the buck that simply had to go now that 2nd year backup Matt Spaeth is in the fold. Grade: B+

Round 5, 137th pick - Jason Simmons, CB Arizona State

Simmons played four season with Pittsburgh before joining the Houston Texans in 2002. Simmons appeared in 49 games for the Steelers and actually was still in the league playing with the Texans as of last year. Even though he played in 37 of the first 48 games possible in his career, Simmons didn't record a tackle until 2001, his final campaign in Pittsburgh.

I can't say I really remember him, but my guess is he contributed on special teams mostly during his stint in Pittsburgh. Grade: C

Round 6, 178th pick - Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, RB Utah

Can I please just call him Chris? Thanks. Fuamatu-Ma'afala had a pretty nice run in Pittsburgh, and I remember plenty of fans loving him for his bruising style and crazy name. Chris finished his 5-year playing career in Pittsburgh with 172 attempts for 751 yards and 6 TDs, good for a healthy 4.4 average.  It's not like there were tons of carries to be had with the workhorse Jerome Bettis ahead of him on the depth chart. He did his job when his number was called.

Chris piles past helpless
Brownies defenders to cap the
improbable comeback

Chris might best be remembered, or at least he should, for his game-winning score against the Brownies in the opening weekend of the playoffs in 2002. The only knock on him is that he signed with Jacksonville the following year. Grade: B+

Round 6, 186th pick, - Ryan Olson, DT Colorado

This is dragging on and has been painstakingly tedious for the two of us, so let's keep this one short and sweet. Olson doesn't even show up in pro-football-reference's ginormous database. That's because he never played a down in the NFL. I did find his name in The Football Database. Olson apparently made the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe in 1999, but again, never appeared in a single game. Grade: D

Round 7, 221st pick  - Angel Rubio, DE SE Missouri State

Again, no need to go too in depth here. The Steelers rounded out this impressive draft (both in terms of quantity and quality) by selecting Rubio in the 7th round. Rubio never appeared in a game for the Steelers, and it's not clear if he made the practice squad or was flat-out-cut. He did however sign with the Arizona Cardinals in 1999. He played two games for the Birds that year, starting neither. Grade: D

Well, there ya have it. Tom Donahoe, the Director of Football Operations at the time, had an incredible day. One likely Hall of Famer in Hines, another potential candidate in Alan Faneca, a 10-year starter on defense in DeShea, a solid contributor in the running game in Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. Overall Grade: A+