Contrary to popular belief, the Pittsburgh Steelers draft well. Throughout the years, the best and brightest to wear the black-and-gold are either homegrown through the draft, or signed by the Steelers after not being drafted out of college. Since 1969 when the Chuck Noll Era began, the vast majority of the greats of Pittsburgh’s football franchise started their careers in the Steel City.
But seeing that made me ask — who are the finest to be drafted or catch-on in a different NFL locale first? The following is a list of the best Steelers imports of what I call the Modern Steelers Era.
QB Tommy Maddox
“Tommy Gun” was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on the second day of September in 1971. That happened to be the 23rd birthday of another quarterback hailing from Shreveport — Terry Bradshaw. Maddox was drafted at age 20 in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Denver Broncos, but was unimpressive initially and was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Nothing clicked for Maddox in LA, nor with the Giants and Falcons. He ended up out of football and selling insurance for three years, but then re-emerged in the Arena League in 2000. In 2001, he delivered the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL a championship and was that league’s only MVP. This led him to the Steelers in 2001, where No. 8 rescued a poor-starting team in 2002, leading them all the way to overtime in the second round of the playoffs, where they fell to Tennessee. He was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and won a Super Bowl as a backup in 2005, ultimately spending five years in Pittsburgh.
FB John L. Williams
Williams is actually one of my favorite Steelers import players ever. After a solid eight seasons in Seattle, the 15th overall pick of the 1986 draft arrived in 1994 to begin a two-season stint in Pittsburgh. Twice a Pro Bowl selection at fullback in Seattle, Williams played like one in Pittsburgh, gaining 417 yards rushing plus 505 receiving. He was the lead blocker for Barry Foster, Bam Morris and Erric Pegram during those two years. Super Bowl XXX was his last NFL game.
RB Jerome Bettis
Drafted by the L.A. Rams in the first round of the 1993 Draft, Bettis’ fortunes went south when the team moved east to St. Louis. There, Jerome clashed with new coach Rich Brooks and his production dipped. The Rams replaced him with a future murderer (Lawrence Phillips) shipping Bettis to Pittsburgh for a second-round pick in 1996. Proving that one team’s trash is another team’s treasure, “The Bus” became the Steelers’ second all-time leading rusher behind Franco Harris, a Super Bowl Champion and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
WR Yancey Thigpen
In 1991, the San Diego Chargers selected Thigpen in the fourth round out of Winston-Salem State, but never was thrown a single pass. The Steelers picked him up in 1992 and he played sparingly until 1994 when he caught 36 balls for 546 yards. His true breakout year was 1995, when he hauled in 85 passes for 1,307 yards, five scores and a Super Bowl TD. In 1997, No. 82 had his second All-Pro season with 79 catches for 1,398 yards and 7 TDs. The very first jersey I ever purchased was Yancey Thigpen’s. A couple of months later, he left town for a very lucrative contract to play three mediocre seasons in Tennessee.
WR Courtney Hawkins
Starting his nine-year career in Tampa Bay in 1992, Hawkins arrived in Pittsburgh in 1997. No. 88 was never a No. 1 WR in the Steeler City, but he was a solid contributor with 1,829 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons.
WR Jerricho Cotchery
Cotchery was a New York Jet originally, having been drafted in the fourth round in 2004 . In 2011 and after seven solid seasons near the Big Apple, Cotch started a three-year stint in the Steel City. As a third WR, Jerricho meshed well with Ben Roethlisberger and caught 79 balls for 1,044 yards. He ended his career in Carolina after the 2015 season.
TE Jonathan Hayes
The Chiefs drafted the Iowa TE in the second round of the 1985 draft and he stayed there for nine seasons. No. 85 signed with the Steelers in 1994 and started in Super Bowl XXX. More of a blocking tight end, Hayes was a solid veteran presence for Pittsburgh who came up big at crucial junctures.
OT Wayne Gandy
Gandy, an All-American from Auburn, was a first-rounder for the Los Angeles Rams in 1994. After five productive years in L.A. and St. Louis, Gandy started 63 games at LT for Pittsburgh, protecting the likes of Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham and Tommy Maddox.
OT Alejandro Villanueva
Everybody knows the story of the highly-decorated Army Ranger. But does everybody know the 6’9” Villanueva actually started his career as a defensive lineman and property of the Philadelphia Eagles? The Pro Bowl LT is quickly becoming a fan favorite and developing into a franchise stalwart.
G Will Wolford
Wolford was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 1986 draft, and it seemed like he would be a Bill for life. But after his third straight loss in the Super Bowl, Wolford parted ways with his franchise of seven years and ventured off to Indy for a three-year stay, in which he played in another AFCCG — a loss to the Steelers. Then, the 6’5”/300 pounder joined his recent tormentors in 1996, finishing his career in the Burgh with three years as a Steeler, mostly at Left Guard.
G Duval Love
Another Ram from the O-line that found his way to the Steel City is the 10th-rounder from UCLA, Class of ‘85. Love spent seven seasons in the city where he matriculated, before becoming a three-year Steeler. In Pittsburgh, Love was a valuable protector of Neil O’Donnell from 1992-1994.
C Jeff Hartings
The Penn State Nittany Lion primarily played Guard after being drafted in the first round in 1996. Hartings played five seasons in the Motor City before switching to Center in the Steel City in 2001. No. 64 won a ring in Pittsburgh and was named First Team All-Pro in 2004. He continued the great run at his position that Pittsburgh had enjoyed since the tenures of Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson. Hartings retired in 2006, after six seasons of representing the hypocycloids.
K Gary Anderson
It’s hard to believe that one of the greatest kickers the NFL has ever seen was cut as a rookie sixth-rounder in 1982 by the Buffalo Bills. The Steelers, unwilling to go another year with the inconsistency of David Trout, picked up Anderson right before their opener against Dallas. Anderson stayed until after the 1994 season and left as the Steelers’ all-time scoring leader.
KR/PR Allen Rossum
Rossum started his career as a Philadelphia Eagle for two years, but spent a majority of his NFL career as an Atlanta Falcon. The Pro Bowl returner arrived in Pittsburgh late in his career in 2007 and spent a productive season with one TD return during Mike Tomlin’s inaugural season.
These are the players on offense deemed the finest imports since 1969. Of course, like anything, these can be debated. Feel free to do so and stick with BTSC for the defensive import list coming soon.