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. - Blitz-
Round 1, Pick #26
Alan Faneca, G LSU
It's hard to get much more out of a 1st round pick than the Steelers got from perennial All-Pro G Alan Faneca. 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. Though Steelers fans perhaps believed he had slowed down a half step during the final year or two of his tenure in Pittsburgh, Faneca has still been able to stay on the field and help his new offense - the New York Jets' - improve in the first year that he was in the Big Apple. Of all the things Faneca did/does so well, perhaps none is more important and impressive than his durability. 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).
Faneca made 96 consecutive starts at left guard during his decade long tenure in Pittsburgh. During that time, the Steelers have had three different leading rushers and four different leading passers. Throughout it all, he was probably the most consistently solid and reliable 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.
And oh yeah. Remember that
short little record setting 75 yard TD run by Willie Parker in the Super Bowl? Of course you do, but if you're a normal human, you were too busy celebrating with friends and family to be thinking about who sprung one of the key blocks on the play. Yup, Faneca, and it wasn't just one Seahawk that he took out of the play. Ring up two and FWP was off to the races.
Still available: -Irrelavent
Round 2, Pick #41
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, couldn'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
Still available: Samari Rolle (CB), Charlie Batch (QB), Jamal Williams (DT)
A better soldier, person, and
citizen than football player
Round 3, Pick #66
Chris Conrad, OT Fresno State
I found Conrad's 'measureables' prior to the 1998 NFL Draft:
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 millennium, despite getting several chances to make squads I believe. Grade: C
Still available: Jeremiah Trotter (LB), Ahman Green (RB), Allen Rossum (CB/KR).
Round 3, Pick #92
Hines Ward, WR Georgia
(As if his play wasn't enough, Ward has also proven himself an invaluable mentor to the Steelers up and coming star, Santonio Holmes.)
It's almost a waste of my and your time assessing 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 (800), receiving touchdowns (72), and receiving yards (9,780). Ward's productivity should be tailing off, but if 2008 was any indication, he's still got plenty left in the tank. As I wrote recently, 2008 was quietly one of the better years of his career. Ward is also a fan favorite to many, including many of us here on BTSC, and one of the best off-the-field guys you'll find in any city in any sport. We'll see what happens in the future with Ward and whether or not he and the front office will shuffle the cards financially so to speak in order to ensure he finishes his potential Hall of Fame career right where it started all the way back in 1998. Grade: A++
Still available: Irrelevant.
Round 4, Pick #123
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
Still available: : No player of note before next pick.
Round 4, Pick #117
Deshea Townsend, CB Alabama
Townsend has been hearing the rumors for 11 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. At the conclusion of the the 2008 season, Townsend had recorded 79 career starts for the Steelers and played in 167 games. Townsend has 15.5 career sacks, 20 interceptions and over 400 tackles. He's been incredibly reliable only missing 5 games in the last nine years and has contributed on special teams every year until 2007. This past year in particular, Townsend showed just how football smart he is, particularly when Troy Polamalu is healthy and roaming the secondary.
Against Dallas, Deshea's pick-6 after our offense finally got it together iced the game and kept a positive vibe and momentum around the team all the way to Tampa and the Super Bowl. Townsend has never been a star but as I wrote recently, he sure has played like a star more often than than given credit for. An outstanding second day pick here. Grade: A-
Still available: Irrelevant
Round 5, Pick #137
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
Still available: Ike Reese (LB), Matt Birk (C)
Round 6, Pick #178
Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, RB Utah
Can I please just call him Chris? Thanks. In fact, his name probably cements his lore in Steelers history regardless of his contribrutions, as was discussed by us recently for kicks.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 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+
Still available: No player of note before next pick
Round 6, Pick #186
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
Still available: Matt Hassleback (QB)
Round 7, Pick # 221
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
Still available: Phil Dawson (K), London Fletcher (LB)
Well, there ya have it. Tom Donahoe, the Director of Football Operations at the time, had an incredible day. Two likely Hall of Famer players in Hines Ward and Alan Faneca, a 10-year starter on defense in DeShea, and a solid contributor in the running game in Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. Overall Grade: A+