The NFL draft is coming up and the Steelers will, once again, rely building heavily through the draft instead of free agency. There are some rounds that the Steelers excel in. Of course, the first round the Steelers have brought in a plethora of Hall of Famers like Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson, Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu. Teams are expected to find their best talent at the top of the draft. But the other rounds are where it becomes tougher. BTSC will go back to 1969 (when the Chuck Noll era began) and rank the best No. 2 picks in team lore. Rankings were aided somewhat by the Career Average Value stat from Pro Football Reference.
Terry Hanratty - Notre Dame University (1969)
Ron Shanklin - North Texas University (1970)
Gordon Gravelle - BYU (1972)
Ray Pinney - University of Washington (1976)
Gerald Williams - Auburn University (1986)
Delton Hall - Clemson University (1987)
Jeff Graham - Ohio State University (1991)
Brentson Buckner - Clemson University (1994)
Marvel Smith - Arizona State University (2000)
Kendrell Bell - University of Georgia (2001)
Antwaan Randle-El - University of Indiana (2002)
Bryant McFadden - Florida State University (2005)
Marcus Gilbert - University of Florida (2011)
Stephon Tuitt - Notre Dame University (2014)
JuJu Smith-Schuster - USC (2017)
Chase Claypool - Notre Dame University (2020)
10. Gerald Williams - Auburn University (1986)
An unsung constant on the Steelers defensive line for years, Gerald Williams was thrilled to be picked second by the Steelers in the 1986 draft out of Auburn, because he was a Steelers fan in his youth. The defensive lineman grew up idolizing Joe Greene and got to play for the Steelers legend when Mean Joe became his position coach in 1988. With the Steelers, Williams had a great joy for playing the game. He also knew how to get to the quarterback by racking up 24.5 sacks in his nine year career. After the 1994 season, Williams left Pittsburgh for the expansion Carolina Panthers. He concluded his career in 1997 with the Green Bay Packers. Because of a four-year wait for a kidney in North Carolina, Williams came back to Pittsburgh in 2017 with 9% kidney function to receive a transplant. His wife, Suzanne had surgery that day to donate hers to a young girl as well. Williams recalled his love for Pittsburgh with WTAE in an interview by saying, “When we come back, it’s like open arms and accept you like you never left,” said Williams. “It always will be family to us.”
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1986: John Rienstra - Temple University
9. LaMarr Woodley - University of Michigan (2007)
LaMarr Woodley could have been an all-time great in Pittsburgh, but injuries shortened his career. The time he did spend in Pittsburgh though was memorable. A second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007, the unanimous All American was issued No. 55 and then switched to No. 56 when Chukky Okobi was released. A force to be reckoned with almost immediately, Woodley became a starter in his second season of 2008 and sacked quarterbacks 11.5 times in that Super Bowl season. His two sacks of Kurt Warner in XLVII, including one to clinch the win with five seconds remaining, extended his streak to four playoff games with a sack. In fact, Woodley racked-up 11 sacks in eight career playoff games and ranks 7 all-time in team sacks with 57. After the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers signed the big backer to a 6-year/$61 million contract. However, the rash of injuries commenced and Woodley was cut in 2014. LaMarr spent a year with the Raiders and the Cardinals before calling it quits after the 2015 season. Despite only seven seasons in black-and-gold, LaMarr Woodley is still considered a recent great in some minds.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 2007: Lawrence Timmons - Florida State University
8. Kordell Stewart - University of Colorado (1995)
A very polarizing player during his time in Pittsburgh, Stewart burst onto the scene in 1995 and was a key contributor to the team’s Super Bowl XXX appearance as a jack-of-all-trades, mostly as a receiver. The best-running QB in franchise lore had 2,874 yards on the ground, but Kordell was hot-and-cold as a passer. Stewart led the team to two AFC Title Games, throwing multiple picks in both games. Some team historians have suggested that Kordell could have been an all-time great had he stayed at receiver, but No. 10 was adamant to stay behind center.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1995: Mark Breuner - University of Washington
7. Le’Veon Bell - Michigan State University (2013)
In five seasons, Le’Veon Bell was one of the finest, all-around running backs in the game of football. Drafted in the second round in 2013 out of Michigan State, Bell burst on to the scene with 860 yards and 8 touchdowns during his Joe Greene Great Performance Award rookie season. The next season, Bell reached superstardom as a Pro Bowler and All-Pro with a combined 2,215 (1,361 yards rushing/854 yards receiving). The season didn’t end well either as Bell missed the playoffs after hyperextending his knee against Cincinnati in the regular season finale. Healthy but suspended for a marijuana on McKnight Road incident, Le’Veon missed the first two games of 2015 and was lost for the year after a knee injury against Cincinnati in Week 8. At the time of injury, “Juice” was averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Again in 2016, Bell was suspended for three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. When Bell made is season debut, he returned with a 144 yard vengeance. In Buffalo of December of that year, Bell broke Willie Parker’s Steelers franchise record for rushing yards in a game with 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In 2017 contract discord set in with Bell reportedly having turned down a 2 -year deal worth $30 Million. Despite speaking out and rapping periodically about the money, Bell still gained 1,906 yards from scrimmage with 11 total touchdowns.
The loss against Jacksonville in the Wildcard was his last with the Steelers as the running back held out the entire 2018 season. The Jets gave him a big money deal in 2019, but his numbers nowhere resembled his five-year total of 7,996 yards both running (5,336) and receiving (2,660), as well as his 42 total touchdowns as a Steeler. After his release and subpar stint with Kansas City, Bell is now a free agent again.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 2007: Jarvis Jones - University of Georgia
6. Levon Kirkland - Clemson University (1992)
A team-MVP in 1998 and 1999, Lorenzo Levon Kirkland was a long-time stalwart and leader on the defense and a member of the great Blitzburgh corps that featured Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and Chad Brown. A second-round selection out of Clemson in 1992, the Consensus All-American was an amazing physical specimen that manned one half of the middle for nine seasons in Pittsburgh, six of those seasons with over 100 combined tackles. The two-time All-Pro cranked out 808 tackles, 19.5 sacks and 11 picks in his Steelers playing days. After leaving the Steelers after the 2000 season, Levon spent a season each with Seattle and Philadelphia before retiring. These Days, No. 99 is an outside linebackers coach for the Arizona Cardinals. Kirkland was named to the All-Decade team for the 90s and is considered an all time great in the Steel City.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1992: Leon Searcy - University of Miami (Fla.)
5. Chad Brown - University of Colorado (1993)
Chadwick Everett Brown played for 15 seasons in the NFL, but (unfortunately) only five of them were while wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. Brown was drafted by the Steelers in 1993 and was he recipient of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as the Steelers’ top rookie. Brown went to and started in the Super Bowl in 1995 as a part of one of the greatest-ever collection of linebackers with Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and Levon Kirkland. When Greene left for Carolina via free agency before the start of the 1996 season, No. 94 moved over to outside linebacker on the right side and recorded a 13-sack season. As a free agent the following season, the free agent Brown broke the bank and left for Seattle, where he did not disappoint and was named to the team’s 35th Anniversary Team. Brown would return to the Steel City for a brief stint in 2006. Of his 79 career sacks, the three-time Pro Bowler and twice First-Team All-Pro racked up 31 of them with hypocycloids.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1993: Deon Figures - University of Colorado
4. Carnell Lake - UCLA (1989)
A linebacker at UCLA, Lake switched to safety in the pros and his play earned him inclusion on the 1990’s All-Decade team. Lake, who stepped down in February 2018 as the Steelers defensive backfield coach, was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and a 4-time All-Pro during his time with Pittsburgh. Lake tallied 677 tackles, 25 sacks, 16 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries during his 10-year career by the three rivers. Lake’s defining moment was switching to cornerback in 1995 after Rod Woodson’s season-ending injury in the opener. Lake’s performance that season proved to be a major factor in the team’s SB XXX entry.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1989: Tim Worley - University of Georgia and Tom Ricketts - University of Pittsburgh
3. Dermontti Dawson - University of Kentucky (1988)
The Hall of Fame snapper was originally drafted as a guard. Dawson was a dominating center, anchoring the line in the 90s, making seven straight Pro Bowls and being named to the 90s All-Decade team. Nicknamed “Dirt” for his propensity to grind opposing players into the ground, Dermontti was inducted as an immortal in Canton in 2012 and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1988: DT Aaron Jones (Eastern Kentucky University)
2. Jack Ham - Penn State University (1971)
Hailing from the great Pennsylvania city of Johnstown, Jack Ham is ranked as one of the best ever to suit up. Both an 8-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, Ham played 12 years with the Steelers and holds the record for most forced turnovers as a linebacker with 53. His 32 career interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries rank him seventh and second respectively among all-time Steelers. The Hall of Famer is a member of the Steelers All-Time team and the NFL’s 70s All-Decade Team.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1971: Frank Lewis - Grambling
1. Jack Lambert - Kent State University (1974)
Lambert might be considered as the most intimidating player ever to play the game. The face of the Steel Curtain defense, Lambert was elected All-Pro eight times and to the Pro Bowl nine times. Twice a Steelers’ team-MVP, Jack had 1,479 tackles, 28 interceptions and 23.5 sacks. The 1974 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and 1976 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a member of the Steelers’ All-Time team and the NFL’s 70s and 80s All-Decade Team. Though his number has never been retired, neither has it ever been issued to another Steelers’ player. Jack Lambert is a 1990 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Steelers Player Drafted at No. 1 in 1974: Lynn Swann - USC
I had an extremely hard time choosing between the top two on this list. I even considered a tie at the top. Pro Football Reference even had my No. 2 rated very slightly ahead. These two Jacks meant so much to the team and played at a high level. But there’s no shame in being No. 2 on this list. The Steelers of the Seventies wouldn’t have been as super without either one of them.