The Pittsburgh Steelers have one compensatory draft pick in upcoming the 2021 NFL draft. Due to the departure of Javon Hargrave during the 2020 offseason, the Steelers have an additional fourth-round selection at pick 140.
Should the Steelers make their pick in this position on the Saturday of the draft, it will be the 35th compensatory selection in Steelers history. Starting with kicker Cole Ford in the seventh round of 1995 as their first ever selection, the Steelers have used their compensatory picks to add a number of players, some of which were significant contributors.
So who was the best player the Steelers have ever selected with a compensatory draft pick? I give you my top-five players as well as a couple honorable mentions from those selected with a compensatory draft pick.
Honorable Mention: Alex Highsmith, Mike Vrabel
I felt the need to include Alex Highsmith in this list as his story is just getting started. Having to fill-in for an injured Bud Dupree, Highsmith started five games his rookie season in 2020 where he had an interception, a pass defensed, 2.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, and 48 tackles during the regular season. Primed for the starting position in 2021, we should know in the next season or two where Highsmith falls within this category.
The highest selection the Steelers have ever made with a compensatory draft pick was Mike Vrabel as a third-round pick at 91st overall selection in 1997. Since the NFL only had thirty teams, Vrabel was the top compensatory pick in this draft. Never cracking the starting lineup in his four years in Pittsburgh, Vrabel had 7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and 56 tackles in Pittsburgh. Where Vrabel really showed his value was in his eight years in New England with two additional years in Kansas City. Selected both to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro in 2007, Vrabel showed his value in the NFL even though he was buried on the depth chart in Pittsburgh.
5: Vince Williams
Not only was Vince Williams a great value pick for the Steelers in the sixth round in 2013, he came at the end of the round as a compensatory pick. Thrust into the starting lineup his rookie season due to an injury to Larry Foote, Williams did not come into the starting role again until 2017. Appearing in 121 regular season games and starting 69, Williams has 20.5 career sacks with two interceptions with one being returned for a touchdown. Williams also has five passes defensed, six fumble recoveries, 45 quarterback hits, 50 tackles for loss, and 479 combined regular-season tackles.
4: Kelvin Beachum
selected as the 248th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Kelvin Beachum was the final of three compensatory draft picks the Steelers had in the seventh round that year. Filling in at various spots across the offensive line his rookie season, Beachum settled into the starting left tackle role partway through the 2013 season. Starting every game at left tackle in 2014, Beachum‘s final year in Pittsburgh in 2015 was cut short after six games due to a knee injury. Luckily, Beachum’s contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars upon his departure led to the selection of the next player on this list.
3: James Conner
Even though fans sometimes remember the most recent production by player, James Conner was a Pro Bowl running back in 2018. Drafted with the 105th overall selection of the 2017 NFL draft, Conner was a third-round compensatory draft pick for the Steelers. Missing at least two games every season of his four years in Pittsburgh, Conner is currently a free agent. During Conner’s tenure, he had 22 rushing touchdowns, 12 of which were in 2018. Conner never cracked the thousand yard mark for a season with the Steelers and had 2,302 regular-season rushing yards on 532 carries. Conner also added four receiving touchdowns on 124 receptions for 963 yards.
2: William Gay
Lasting 11 years in the NFL, William Gay was a fifth-round compensatory draft pick in 2007 and was the 170th selection overall. Playing 10 years in Pittsburgh with one year in Arizona wedged right in the middle of his career, Gay intercepted 11 passes with the Steelers. Tied with Rod Woodson for the most interceptions returned for a touchdown in franchise history with five, Gay started 86 regular season games and appeared in 160 in his time with the Steelers. Additionally, Gay added a fumble return for a touchdown in the playoffs in the AFC Championship Game of the 2010 season.
1: Hines Ward
The obvious choice for the top compensatory pick in Steelers history, Hines Ward was selected 92nd overall in the third round of the 1998 draft. Playing 14 seasons all with the Steelers, Ward was selected to the Pro Bowl four times in consecutive years from 2001 through 2004. Finishing his career with exactly 1000 regular-season catches along with 85 receiving touchdowns, Ward also added 88 playoff receptions with 10 touchdowns. Ward is the Steelers franchise leader in receiving yards with 12,083 along with receptions, receiving touchdowns, and games played (217) and started (190) by a wide receiver.