The Steelers are rarely major players on Draft Day. Yes, they'll occasionally trade up like they did in 2003 and 2006 to acquire key players like Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes respectively. But for the most part, they quietly do their thing without much attention from the draft experts of the world.
However, there was a time, in 1989, when the Steelers actually had two first round picks. For a kid like me, who was obsessed with the draft in those days, it was a very welcome situation.
If there was ever a year when Pittsburgh needed 2 first round draft picks, it was 1989. The team was coming off that awful 1988 NFL season in-which they finished 5-11 and badly needed an influx of talent.
Thanks to that 5-11 record, the team had the 7th pick in the draft. The Steelers also acquired the 24th pick in the first round from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for linebacker Mike Merriweather, who held out the entire 1988 season seeking a new contract.
Leading up to the draft that year, it was no secret that the Steelers would probably draft running back Tim Worley from Georgia. I was happy because I had been disappointed the year before when they passed on running back Lorenzo White and instead selected defensive end Aaron "who" Jones from Eastern Kentucky.
Worley rushed for over 1200 yards in 1988 and was an all-SEC selection. In a newspaper article discussing the possibilities of Worley coming to Pittsburgh, Ernie Accorsi, the then General Manager of the Browns, said something along the lines of: "Tim Worley could be coming to the AFC Central? Oh no!"
There was also speculation that the Steelers would pick wide receiver Andre Rison from Michigan State. I was intrigued with Rison, as well, but I wanted Worley. I mean, one of these years, they had to pick that franchise running back. They couldn't keep relying on the Ernest Jacksons of the world.
The 1989 draft was very rich in talent. Four of the top five players that year--Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders--all went on to have Hall of Fame careers. The lone exception? Tony Mandarich, Mr. Offensive Lineman of the Universe, went 2nd overall to the Green Bay Packers but went on to have a rather lackluster career.
When it was Pittsburgh's turn to pick at 7, they used the entire 15 minutes to figure things out. They were obviously debating between the running back and the receiver. I don't blame them. The stakes were pretty high and you don't want to make the wrong move with such a high draft choice. Finally, when the selection was made, it was, in fact, Tim Worley. I was happy. The Steelers finally had that franchise running back that I had coveted for so long.
But the fun was only half over. Who would the Steelers draft with their second selection in round 1? After having such an awful 1988 season, just about any position was fair game. Andre Rison obviously wasn't a realistic consideration because he was sure to be long-gone by the time Pittsburgh selected again at 24. Strangely enough however, Rison started slipping in the draft and suddenly there were rumors that the Steelers would try to move up into the top 20 to grab him. I don't remember who their targeted trading partner was, but supposedly, they wanted the Steelers 1st and either a 2nd or 3rd round pick (my memory fails me on the exact round), and Pittsburgh ultimately wouldn't part with the additional pick to move up. When my uncle and I heard this, we were livid. "Damn that Noll! He loves those lower round draft picks too much!"
Obviously, Rison didn't make it to the Steelers. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the 21st pick. When it came time for the Steelers to pick, they drafted Tom Ricketts, a left tackle from the University of Pittsburgh. An offensive lineman wasn't as sexy of a pick as a receiver, but it was a sound choice. The description of Ricketts in the Draft guide said that he had a "nasty streak." You have to love that trait in an offensive lineman.
So, unlike the previous year, I was feeling pretty good about the Steelers Draft even before the first round was over.
With their 2nd round selection, the Steelers took Carnell Lake from UCLA. He was a linebacker in college but because of his lack of size, was projected to play safety in the NFL.
In the 3rd round, they did get their receiver when they grabbed Derek Hill from Arizona.
Other notable selections from that year's draft were linebacker Jerrol Williams from Purdue, cornerback David "DJ" Johnson from Kentucky, linebacker Jerry Olsavsky from Pittsburgh, receiver Mark Stock from Virginia Military Institute (the guy who dropped the crucial pass in the Denver playoff game later that season), and Carlton Haselrig from PITT-Johnstown--a decorated college wrestler who Myron Cope lobbied hard for and was projected to play guard in the pros.
Unfortunately, even though the 1989 NFL Draft was considered one of the best ever, the Steelers first round selections didn't pan out. Tim Worley had a fairly strong rookie campaign--rushing for over 700 yards--but was plagued by off-the-field issues and never did much after that; he was essentially out of football within 5 years. As for Ricketts, he did nothing of note and was gone by '92. Much like Dermontti Dawson the previous year, Carnell Lake came to the Steelers in the 2nd round without much fanfare but would go on to have a pretty spectacular career. Lake was one of the premiere safeties of his era and a key member of the Steelers playoff teams from the 90's. Olsavsky and Johnson would turn out to be pretty good "value" picks and had relatively productive careers. As for Haselrig? Despite never playing football in college, he quickly excelled as an offensive guard and even made the Pro Bowl in 1992. However, he was also hampered by off-the-field problems and out of Pittsburgh after the '93 season. As for Derek Hill--the receiver they picked up in the 3rd round--he was only with the team for a year or two; I don't really know what happened to him. It was a long time ago and my memory is sort of sketchy, but I like to tell myself that it was the 2nd round pick that Pittsburgh didn't want to part with when they were trying to trade up for Rison and not the 3rd. It helps me sleep at night.
Speaking of Andre Rison, he went on to have a great career with over 700 receptions for 7 different teams. That's right, for the second straight year, the guy from Michigan St. that the Steelers passed on had a better career than the guy they picked. Actually, Rison had a better career than BOTH players the Steelers selected in the first round that year. In all fairness, it's hard to criticize the organization for picking Worley. He was considered the smart choice at the time.
So, the 1989 Draft pretty much followed the same pattern as 1988: The first round selection(s) were largely unimpressive, but the team landed a gem of a player in the 2nd round and a couple of nice role players later in the draft.
The 1989 Draft taught me a valuable lesson that I'd like to pass on: The next time you think it would be so awesome for the Steelers to have 2 draft picks in the first round, remember back to that 1989 Draft when 1 + 1 added up to one fat ZERO.