As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the 2022 NFL draft, there is a lot of focus on who they will be selecting throughout the three days. While these players are the ones expected to contribute the most throughout their career, sometimes it’s a player who wasn’t selected in the draft that can really make a difference in pushing a franchise to the next level
Knowing the importance of getting quality backups and special teams players beyond the draft, occasionally a superstar will emerge who didn’t get their name called from the stage to start their career. For this reason, let’s look at the top five players who went undrafted but began their careers with the Pittsburgh Steelers between the years 1980 and 1999. To make the process easier, players are only considered for the list if their first NFL regular season game was for the Steelers, even if they were picked up by another franchise first but never saw game action.
Unlike in the 2000s, the Steelers did not find many quality players who were undrafted. In case you missed the previous installment of 2000-present, it can be seen here:
5. Harvey Clayton (1983-1986)
Undrafted out of Florida St. in 1983, Clayton appeared in 14 games as a rookie where he had an interception returned 70 yards for a touchdown along with 2.0 sacks. Getting another interception and another sack in his second season, Clayton became a starter in 1985 and 1986 at cornerback for the Steelers. Leaving for the New York Giants in 1987, Clayton only appeared in two games before being out of the NFL. His nephew, Antrel Rolle, did win a Super Bowl with the Giants.
4. Josh Miller (1996-2003)
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers were his first NFL team, Josh Miller started off his career with the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League. After two seasons in the CFL, Miller was in Seattle Seahawks training camp in 1996 but did not make the team and instead landed in Pittsburgh. The Steelers punter for eight seasons, Miller had an average of 42.9 yards per punt in the regular season while in Pittsburgh. Another noticeable statistic, Miller completed one pass on one attempt for an 81-yard touchdown to Chris Hope in 2003. After the Steelers, Miller also kicked for three seasons in New England and one additional game in Tennessee in 2007.
3. Brian Blankenship (1987-1991)
A rookie offensive lineman in 1987, Blankenship allegedly ripped the rat tail off of Brian Bosworth during a kickoff. A full-time starter on the Steelers offensive line for two seasons, Blankenship only appeared in three games in his fifth year in 1991 as he suffered a neck injury and never played again.
2. Dwight Stone (1987-1994)
Was he a running back? Was he a wide receiver? Most importantly, he was undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State and began his Steelers career 1987. Playing eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dwight Stone had 152 receptions for 2,460 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns while also having 96 rushes for 557 yards and one rushing touchdown. Additionally, Stone also had over 2,000 kick return yards for the Steelers on 109 returns including one touchdown. Stone went on to play four years in Carolina and two years with the New York Jets but never saw the success he had with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1. Keith Willis (1982-1991)
Undrafted out of Northeastern University in Boston, Keith Willis played nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers starting in 1982. Becoming a full-time starter in 1985, Willis had 59.0 career sacks in Pittsburgh which has him eighth all time, including numbers from the Steel Curtain era before sacks became an official individual statistic. Starting 87 games, Willis had at least one sack in every season he played for the Steelers. After one season in Buffalo followed by another in Washington where he only appeared in one game, Willis has been a defensive line coach since 1995 for various universities, the CFL, also spent five seasons with the Tennessee Titans from 2016 to 2020.