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. 3 picks in team lore. Rankings were aided somewhat by the Career Average Value stat from Pro Football Reference.
Alex Highsmith - UNC-Charlotte (2020), Justin Layne - Michigan State (2019), Diontae Johnson - Toledo (2019), Mason Rudolph - Oklahoma State (2018), Chukawuma Okorafor - Western Michigan (2018), Cameron Sutton - Tennessee (2017), James Conner - Pitt (2017), Javon Hargrave - South Carolina State (2016), Sammie Coates - Auburn (2015), Markus Wheaton - Oregon State (2013), Emmanuel Sanders - (SMU) 2010, Keenan Lewis - Oregon State (2009), Matt Spaeth - Minnesota (2007), Trai Essex - Northwestern (2005), Chris Hope - Florida State (2002), Amos Zereoue - West Virginia (1999), Mike Vrabel - Ohio State (1997), Jon Witman - Penn State (1996), Brendan Stai - Nebraska (1995), Byron “Bam” Morris - Texas Tech (1994), Andre Hastings - Georgia (1993), Ernie Mills - Florida (1991), Bubby Brister -Louisiana - Monroe (1986), Craig Colquitt - Tennessee (1978), Jim Smith - Michigan (1977), Tom Beasley - Virginia Tech (1977)
10. Max Starks - University of Florida (2004 - 75th overall)
Although Ben Roethlisberger was the buy of the 2004 draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Max Starks was the warranty and protection package that helped keep Big Ben in working order for many years. It was a good thing Starks was a ball boy for the Orlando Magic, that way the eighth grader could borrow sized-16 shoes from Shaquille O’Neal. After a college career at the University of Florida, Max (and his now sized 19 shoes) was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2004 draft. The 6’8” and 370 pounder became a starter the next season on the Super Bowl XL winner and again with the XLIII championship team. The Steelers released Max in July of 2011, but re-signed him in October of that year. After starting all 16 games in 2012, Starks left for stints with the Rams, Chargers and Cardinals. He left the game after being released by the Cards at the end of camp in 2014. But Starks will be known always as being a huge presence on the offensive line for nine years in Pittsburgh.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Starks in 2004: 1) Ben Roethlisberger - Miami (Ohio), 2) Ricardo Colclough - Tusculum
Player drafted one spot ahead of Starks in 2004: Tim Anderson - Buffalo Bills (Ohio State)
9. Joel Steed - University of Colorado (1992 - 67th overall)
The Steelers personnel department had a major pipeline running from Steeltown to Boulder in the mid-90s with finds such as Chad Brown, Deon Figures, Kordell Stewart, Charles Johnson and Ariel Solomon all arriving via the draft from 1991-1995. The Steelers also struck gold when they plucked a 6’2”/310 lb. nose tackle with the 67th pick of the 1992 draft by the name of Joel Steed. Steed, an eight-year load of a nose tackle from Colorado, earned a Pro Bowl bid in 1997. In a stretch from 1993 to 1997, No. 93 was a major force in the middle of a defensive line that, against the run, ranked third in 1993, seventh in ‘94, second in ‘95, third in 96 and first in 1997, Joel’s Pro Bowl season. One of the finest NTs in the history of the Men of Steel, Joel Steed spent his entire career with hypocycloids on his helmet and enjoyed 305 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Steed in 1992: 1) Leon Searcy - Miami (Florida), 2) Levon Kirkland - Clemson
Player drafted one spot ahead of Steed in 1992: Bob Spitulski - Seattle Seahawks (Central Florida)
8. Mike Wallace - University of Mississippi (2009 - 84th overall)
As a deep threat, the speedy Wallace was a dream weapon for Ben Roethlisberger and a nightmare for defenses. Wallace arrived in the third round of the 2009 draft. As a rookie out of Ole Miss, Wallace tied for first for the team lead in touchdown receptions with Heath Miller and Hines Ward. His 756 yards was fourth behind Santonio Holmes, Ward and Miller. In his remaining three years with the team, No. 17 led the Steelers in receiving and caught a touchdown pass against Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV. The leader of the infamous “Young Money” stable that included Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders had 235 receptions for 4,042 yards, caught 32 touchdowns and averaged 17.2 yards-per-catch in black and gold. Unhappy over money and Brown’s extension, Wallace left the team as a free agent after his rookie deal ran out in 2013 and signed with Miami for two seasons. Then the receiver spent a year in Minnesota, two more in Baltimore (where he would score a decisive touchdown against the Steelers in 2016) and a final year with the Eagles in 2018. Mike Wallace’s best years though, would always be in Pittsburgh.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Wallace in 2009: 1) Evander “Ziggy” Hood - Missouri, 2) No Pick, 3) Kraig Urbik - Wisconsin
Player drafted one spot ahead of Wallace in 2009: Brandon Tate - New England Patriots (North Carolina)
7. Neil O’Donnell - University of Maryland (1990 - 70th overall)
Neil is one of the most loathed (undeservedly in my opinion) Steelers of all time, really only due to the two interceptions he tossed in Super Bowl XXX. Although I fervently disagree, some members of Steelers Nation ridiculously claim that he was in on a fix. O’Donnell did indeed blow it in that Super Bowl in Tempe, but they don’t make it to the precipice of a championship without O’Donnell that year. No. 14 is statistically the third-best quarterback in team history. After sitting on the bench for his entire rookie season, Neil started eight game, replacing Bubby Brister in 1991 before becoming the QB1 in 1992. Neil led the Steelers to the playoffs that season and was named to the only Pro Bowl of his career. O’Donnell had three more productive seasons as a starter, but his career in Pittsburgh ended with the Super Bowl disappointment against Dallas. The Jets signed the quarterback to a lucrative free agent deal, but he lasted only two seasons in Gotham. After a season in Cincy where he was the league’s completion percentage leader in 1998, the Maryland Terrapin spent five seasons as a backup in Tennessee. But the 1990 third rounder had his best years in Pittsburgh going 39-22, while throwing for 12,687 yards with 69 touchdown passes against 39 picks. O’Donnell would start in seven postseason games with Pittsburgh, but the last one unfortunately stained his legacy among many Steeler faithful.
Steelers Players Drafted ahead of O’Donnell in 1990: 1) Eric Green - Liberty, 2) Kenny Davidson - LSU
Player drafted one spot ahead of O’Donnell in 1990: Glenn Parker - Buffalo Bills (Arizona)
6. Mike Merriweather - Pacific University (1982 - 70th overall)
Mike Merriweather was a dominant sack-man for the Steelers, with 31 of his career 41 coming in the Steel City. Merriweather, who was drafted in the strike season of 1982, played in all nine games, but didn’t start as a rookie. In his second season as a professional, the linebacker from Pacific started every game for the Steelers, had three interceptions, half-a-sack and a touchdown. In 1984, Merriweather picked-off three passes and totaled 15 sacks (a team record that stood for 24 years until James Harrison got 16 in 2008) and went to his first of three-straight Pro Bowls. After No. 57 was named to his third All-Pro team and Steelers MVP in 1987, Mike sat out in ’88 due to a contract dispute. Unable to come to terms, Merriweather was traded to the Vikings in 1988 for a No. 1 pick that netted T Tom Ricketts. He would play until 1992 in Minnesota and would finish his career with Green Bay and the Jets in 1993. In the somewhat forgotten decade of the 80s, Mike Merriweather stands out as one of the finest players to lace up the cleats during that decade.
Steelers Players Drafted ahead of Merriweather in 1982: 1) Walter Abercrombie - Baylor, 2) John Meyer - Arizona State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Merriweather in 1982: Steve Doig - Detroit Lions (New Hampshire)
5. Jason Gildon - Oklahoma State University (1994 - 88th overall)
Jason Gildon was a great disruption to offenses in Pittsburgh and held the title of Steelers sack master for 14 seasons until another No. 92 seized the honor in 2017. Arriving out of Oklahoma State in the third round of the 1994 draft, Gildon joined a stacked stable of linebackers that included Levon Kirkland, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Jerry Olsavsky and Greg Lloyd. In fact, comparisons to the five-time Pro Bowler earned him the nickname of “Baby Lloyd”. Because of the talent in front of him, Gildon didn’t become a starter until 1996, but quickly became a standout on special teams. Earning three trips to the Pro Bowl from 2000 to 2002, the First Team All-Pro tallied 77 sacks in his Steelers career, seizing the crown as all-time sack king from L.C. Greenwood in 2003. After three touchdowns, three AFC Championship Games and playing in Super Bowl XXX, Gildon left the Steelers for Jacksonville and one last hurrah after ten seasons as a Steeler in 2003.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Gildon in 1994: 1) Charles Johnson - Colorado, 2) Brentson Buckner - Clemson
Player drafted one spot ahead of Gildon in 1994: Cory Fleming - San Francisco 49ers (Tennessee)
4. Joey Porter - Colorado State University (1999 - 89th overall)
Nick-named “Peasey”, a certain outside linebacker was a whirling dervish of a pass-rusher for eight years at Heinz Field. Drafted as the first of back-to-back picks in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft (OL Kris Farris of Wisconsin being the other), Joey Porter was perhaps one of the most charismatic Steelers in team history. Porter was named a Pro Bowler and All-Pro on three occasions and the 2002 Steelers Co-MVP was the first player in NFL history to record 70 sacks and 10 interceptions. A member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and the Steelers’ All-Time Team, Porter was the vocal leader of the Super Bowl XL champions. He finished his Steelers career fifth all-time with 60 sacks, 10 interceptions and 8 fumble recoveries. Porter, who was shot below the buttocks outside of a club in Denver in 2003, only missed two games due to the incident and later used “they shot me in Denver!” as a motivating cry before the 2005 AFC Championship. With the emergence of James Harrison and a $1 million roster bonus approaching, the team released Peasey before the beginning of the Mike Tomlin era. However, Porter would sign a huge deal with the Miami Dolphins and rack up 32 sacks in Miami including 17.5 in 2008. Released in 2010, Joey signed another nice deal in Arizona where he played parts of two seasons before retiring. Porter returned to the Steelers as a defensive assistant coach in 2014 and played a prominent role in the infamous 2016 Wild Card Game, inciting the Pac Man Jones penalty which resulted in the improbable game-winning field goal. Relieved of his duties in 2019 as outside linebackers coach for the Steelers, Joey Porter will always remembered as a team leader of a dominant defense that helped end a championship drought in the Steel City
Steelers Players Drafted ahead of Porter in 1999: 1) Troy Edwards - Louisiana Tech, 2) Scott Shields - Weber State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Porter in 1999: Grey Ruegamer - Miami Dolphins (Arizona State)
3. Jon Kolb - Oklahoma State University (1969 - 56th overall)
On the field for the Steelers, Kolb didn’t need any apologies for his play. Number 55 was one of the strongest men in the entire league, placing high in Strong Man competitions. But his real strength was protecting the quarterback from the left tackle position as a full-time starter for nine of his thirteen seasons from 1969 to 1981. Kolb started on all four Super Bowl teams that decade and was immortalized by a fan group called “Kolb’s Kowboys”. After retiring in 1981, Kolb spent time as the strength and conditioning coach in Pittsburgh. With all of the Hall of Famers that roamed Three Rivers Stadium during those days, the blindside bodyguard named Jon Kolb remains one of the most crucial players from that dynasty not to be enshrined.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Kolb in 1969: 1) Joe Greene - North Texas, 2) Terry Hanratty - Notre Dame, 2) Warren Bankston - Tulane
Player drafted one spot ahead of Kolb in 1969: Al Jenkins - Cleveland Browns (Tulsa)
2. Hines Ward - University of Georgia (1998 - 88th overall)
Hines Ward is one of the greatest players in Pittsburgh Steelers history, but he wasn’t valued right away. Despite 76 catches, 884 yards and 7 touchdowns his first two seasons, the 1998 third-rounder out of Georgia saw the team draft receivers in the first round in 1999 (Troy Edwards) and 2000 (Plaxico Burress). Hines outlasted them all. With 1,000 career receptions, Ward is tops all-time when listing the best Steelers receivers. His 12,083 receiving yards ranks him 23rd in NFL history. One of the most popular players to wear the black-and-gold, Hines was a devastating blocker when he didn’t have the ball. The 14-year veteran was a four-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champ and the Super Bowl XL MVP. A member of the Steelers All-Time Team, the Dancing With The Stars-Mirror Bowl winner also wore #86 and scored a touchdown for the Gotham Rogues in The Dark Knight Rises. The career of Hines Ward in Pittsburgh is proof that sometimes you don’t realize that what you need is right under your nose the whole time. Everybody knows his value now. Hopefully the Hall of Famer voters will recognize Hines’ value soon. Ward made it to the top 25 again this year, but fell short of being a finalist once again.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Ward in 1998: 1) Alan Faneca - LSU 2) Jeremy Staat - Arizona State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Ward in 1998: Brian Griese - Denver Broncos (Michigan)
1. Mel Blount - Southern University (1970 - 53rd overall)
Mel Blount was the prototype for the cornerback position in the 1970s The Hall of Famer was so dominant that the league instituted a rule — the 5-yard chuck — primarily because of him. In fact, teammate John Stallworth credits that rule as a part of his own success. Blount revolutionized the corner position and ranks as the team’s best with 57 interceptions during his career, including 11 in 1975 when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The 5-time Pro Bowler made All-Pro six times and is a member of the 1970s All-Decade team and the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Steelers Player Drafted ahead of Blount in 1970: 1) Terry Bradshaw - Louisiana Tech, 2) Ron Shanklin - North Texas
Player drafted one spot ahead of Blount in 1970: Clyde Werner - Kansas City Chiefs (Washington)
This is a really solid list of players that the Steelers found in the third round. A lot of them weren’t familiar names to Steeler Nation before they were selected.