In the final part of this series, we will see draft picks from the most successful eras of Steelers football. The Steelers never drafted as high as the 21st Pick until 1973, a full 40 years since the teams inception.
Over the course of 88 seasons, the organization has made 78 first round picks at almost every possible drafting position in the first round. For the final time, let’s break down every overall selection of the first round. Today, we will look at picks 21-32
1974, Wide Receiver, Southern California
The first pick of the legendary 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers draft, Swann would go on to have a hall-of-fame career. Perhaps best known for his electric Super Bowl performances. The most prominent being what he did in Super Bowl 10. He only hauled in 4 receptions, but how he caught those passes was absolutely remarkable. The juggling catch up the seem, hovering over the sideline, and his over the shoulder touchdown grab. If you were to rank the most athletic receptions in Super Bowl history to that point, Swann may have been ranked 1-3 for what he did in this game. He also put up 161 yards and one touchdown on his way to Super Bowl MVP honors. Four Super Bowls, and a career full of highlights later, Swann is the obvious choice for pick 21.
2015, Outside Linebacker, Kentucky
Dupree broke out in 2019, but a deep dive into his advanced analytics would suggest he’s actually been pretty consistent in pressuring the quarterback. If you combine the improvement of the secondary and Dupree adding the ability to finish plays, you get his statistical explosion. Bud looks primed to be one half of a dominant pass-rushing tandem for many years to come should he and the Steelers come to an agreement on a contract over the next year.
1984, Wide Receiver, Southern Mississippi
Louis Lipps was one of the best Steelers players in the post-Steel Curtain era. One of only three Steelers players to be named offensive rookie of the year, Lipps was a dominant return man breaking the total punt return yardage record for rookies. Lipps would back the season up with a 1st team All-Pro season as a receiver. He would be a steady force in the unit and would even be named team MVP in 1989.
2012, Guard, Stanford
DeCastro has arguably been the best Guard in football the past 5 seasons. Three consecutive All-Pro seasons from 2015-17 and a Pro Bowler each of the past 5 seasons, Big Dave has been a steady force on the Steelers O-line. Considering the talent which has been featured along the Steelers line, it really means something when I say DeCastro has been the best Steelers O-Lineman since Alan Faneca. Depending on how long the Washington native continues to play in the NFL, I can see him ending his career in Canton, Ohio.
2007, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
The Super Bowl XLIII savior and MVP, Santonio Holmes put the Steelers offense on his back for the entirety of the 2008 playoffs. From his punt return in the divisional round against the Chargers, to his 65 yard touchdown in the AFC championship game vs Baltimore, Holmes capped off his postseason with one of the most clutch performances in Super Bowl history. Despite only playing 4 seasons in the ‘Burgh, Holmes deserves every bit of being on this list.
1998, Guard, Louisiana State
The best guard of his generation, and arguably the best offensive lineman in Steelers history, Faneca was again snubbed from the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020 (*If it wasn't for the Steelers having 4 other members in the class, Faneca would've gotten in. Faneca is a lock for the class of 2021). The Guard from LSU was named to all but one All-Pro team every season between 2001 & 2007, and he was elected to the Pro Bowl every year between 2001-2009. The Super Bowl XL champ started 201 regular-season NFL games.
1995, Tight End, Washington
Mark Bruener played 14 seasons in the NFL as a primary run-blocking tight-end. When you think of the position nowadays, being so heavily relied upon in the passing game, is an insane amount of longevity. Bruener hauled in 152 career receptions and 18 touchdowns. Today he is in the Steelers scouting department.
1976, Tight End, Clemson
The Steelers have selected 28th 4 times in history, with each player having similar mid-impact type roles. Other names include: Greg Hawthorne, Mark Malone, and Terrell Edmunds. The ladder of which could ascend to the top of the rankings one day, but I decided to go with the two-time Super Bowl Champ Bennie Cunningham for his role in the latter years of the 70’s dynasty. The most memorable moment in Cunningham’s career was catching a flea flicker in overtime to knock off the Browns in 1978. Bennie would play 10 seasons with the Steelers and would be named to the All-Time team.
1996, Tackle, North Carolina A&T
The Steelers have only selected in the 29th slot once in their history. Unfortunately it wasn't a very good pick. Stephens came into the NFL with high potential and great size, even managing to start 10 games in 1998. But he famously showed up to the 1999 training camp so out of shape that he couldn't complete fourteen 40-yard sprints (*Which was a custom of the first day of camp in the Bill Cowher era). Cowher was so disgusted by the performance he cut Stephens hours after.
30th Overall TIE
2005, Tight End, Virginia
2017, Outside Linebacker, Wisconsin
Heath Miller is undoubtedly the greatest tight-end in Steelers history. Ranking first in yards, receptions and touchdowns at his position. Miller was an integral part of the Steelers mid-2000’s championship teams and a beloved player by the fan base. One of the most fun parts about attending a Steelers game between 2005-2015 was any time Miller would catch a pass, and hearing 65,000+ serenade the tight end with chants of ‘HEEEATH’.
Heath Miller put up numbers, won Super Bowls and played the game for 11 seasons. T.J. Watt, who I decided should also be featured, is just getting started. It’s unquestioned that Miller has had the greater career but T.J.’s trajectory is one which deemed him worthy of being mentioned with the tight-end.
With 34.5 sacks, 70 QB hits, 15 forced fumbles, and 3 picks in just THREE seasons, if Watt decides to play just another 5 more years he would likely own every pass rushing record in team history. Just think of the great pass rushers that have come through Pittsburgh. Watt is already on pace to supplant every pass rusher that has come before him.
2011, Defensive End, Ohio State
When things are all said and done, when Cam Heyward retires he will be the greatest 3-4 D-end in Steelers history. He just keeps getting better and better with age, and honestly if it wasn’t for Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward might just be the best interior D-lineman the past three years. The defensive captain is the vocal and physical leader of the unit and will go down with some of the all-time great defensive lineman in franchise history.
Evander ‘Ziggy’ Hood
2009, Defensive End, Missouri
The Steelers have twice held the 32 pick of the first round but only ever drafted once in the 32nd slot (they traded up for Santonio Holmes in 2006). Ziggy Hood, was a fine rotational/depth player along the Steelers D-Line for a half-decade, never quite living up to the hype of a first round pick, Hood, somewhat surprisingly played a total of 11 seasons in the NFL (failing to make the Saints roster a year ago was likely the last of his time in the league). Hood would have 11.5 sacks as a member of the Steelers and 14 total for his career.
And there’s the list! before I sign you out I wanted to share some interesting tidbits I noticed when researching this article:
-The Steelers shift from the worst team in football for its first 40 years of existence, to being one of the best since is remarkable.
-The lower the Steelers pick, the worse the pick tends to be (With some obvious exceptions)
-The Steelers drafting in every slot but 14 kind of made me chuckle and I’ll think back to writing this if it were to ever happen.
-From 1958 to 1967, the Steelers picked only 4 times in the first round.
-Pre-1955 most players drafted never played much more than a season, mostly because there wasn't any money playing football back then.
-Between 1969-1975 the Steelers first round selections would go on to play in at least one Pro Bowl
-Between 1998 through now the Steelers selected 11 Pro bowl players with their first round pick. Some of the surprising names not/or yet to play in a Pro Bowl include: Devin Bush, Bud Dupree, Santonio Holmes, Kendall Simmons, Plaxico Burress, and who knows maybe one day Terrell Edmunds.
Who’s your favourite first round pick in Steelers history? Let us know in the comments below!