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Clash of the Classes, Part Two: Ranking the best Steelers drafts of the modern era

We continue to rank the best Pittsburgh Steelers draft classes of the modern era. Today we give you Part Two.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

BTSC continues to rank the best draft classes selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers since the beginning of the modern era. Previously, we went back to 1969 when Chuck Noll took over in Pittsburgh. However, it has been expanded to include every year since there has been a Super 1966 it is.

In Part One, BTSC ranked 1992 at #10, 2007 at #9, 2002 was listed at #8 and 2010 landed at #7. This time around, we present the sixth, fifth and fourth draft classes for the Pittsburgh Steelers since Pi

No. 6 - 1998

The 1998 draft saw the Steelers draft three players that would help lead them to Super Bowl glory again, two of them have been finalists for induction into the Hall of Fame recently. BTSC ranks 1998 as #6 overall.

G Alan Faneca of LSU anchored the Steeler line for 10 of the consensus All-American's 13 NFL seasons. He spent three more years with the Jets and Cardinals. The Steelers 1998 #1 was a 9x Pro Bowler, 8x All Pro (6x First-team, 2x Second-team) and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade team. Faneca was a key component in the Super Bowl XL win, pulling and laying a bone-crushing block to free Willie Parker on his record run of 75-yards for a score.

In Round 2, the Steelers traded up to select DE Jeremy Staat out of Arizona State. Staat had 20 tackles in three seasons for Pittsburgh and two games with the Rams in 2003. Staat joined the Marines in 2006 and served in Iraq. He now heads the Jeremy Staat Foundation to aid veteran issues.

At Pick 3b, Hines Ward wasn't expected to be the all-time leading receiver in team history when he was drafted. In fact, the team selected a first-round WR (Troy Edwards in 1999 and Plaxico Burress in 2000) in each of the next two seasons. However, Ward persevered and the 5x Pro Bowler ended his 14-year career with two rings, 1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. The Super Bowl XL MVP added an extra 76 catches for 1,064 yards and eight TDs in 14 postseason games. Hines was voted Second-team All Pro three times and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team. No. 86 was also considered one of the very best blocking receivers of all time. Like fellow Steeler-great Mel Blount, Ward had a rule (more-or-less) named after him making blindside blocks illegal.

CB Deshea Townsend was a valuable piece of the puzzle for the Steelers two Super Bowl victories. In 13 NFL seasons (12 in Pittsburgh and one in Indianapolis), the fourth-rounder in '98 had 21 interceptions and 15.5 sacks. The Alabama alum may have had his biggest moment with a pick-six of Tony Romo to clinch a huge win against Dallas in 2008. Townsend is currently the DB coach in Tennessee for the Titans.

Fifth rounder Jason Simmons played in 49 games for Pittsburgh in four nondescript seasons. He was signed by the expansion Houston Texans in 2002 where he played another six seasons and 72 games at safety.

The big and burly Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala was selected 6a in 1998 by the Steelers. The man who inspired loud chants of "Fuuuuuuuuu" played five seasons, backing up Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh, before spending his last two in Jacksonville. The 252-lb Hawaiian gained 751 of his 964 NFL yards for the Steelers. The Utah product also had 10 career NFL TDs in 73 games.

Making lesser contributions from the 1998 draft class were T Chris Conrad (Round 3a/17 games), RB Carlos King (Round 4b/1 game) and DE Angel Rubio (Round 7/2 games).

Only LB Ryan Olson (Round 6b) never saw NFL action from the 1998 class.

No. 5 - 1987

The 1987 draft saw the Steelers double-down in the first two rounds at the cornerback position, with one getting a gold jacket and a bust in Canton. Five other quality starters were unearthed in this particular draft, thus earning the distinction of being BTSC's fifth ranked Steeler draft class.

Rod Woodson was the 10th overall pick in the first round of the '87 draft and the class of this overall class. The 2009 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame spent 10 of his 17 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh franchise. However, the world-class hurdler went to run track on the European circuit and held out until October 28, 1987, reducing his rookie year to a mere eight games. When his brilliant career finally began, he took off as both a cornerback and a return man. No. 26 had 71 career picks and was named All Pro eight times (6x First-team, 2x Second-team), selected to 11 Pro Bowls and was the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Purdue Boilermaker is a member of the 90s All-Decade team, the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team, the Steelers All-Time Team and a 3x Steeler team MVP. It's only fair to mention that after leaving the Steelers after the 1996 season, Woodson converted to safety and spent a year in San Francisco, four years with a Maryland-based NFL team and two seasons in Oakland. Woodson is back with the Raiders as their DBs coach.

CB Delton Hall was picked in the second round out of Clemson in 1987 and initially eclipsed Woodson by winning the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as the most outstanding rookie that year. "Beltin' Delton" had three picks his rookie season, but only had two more in his remaining five years (four more in Pittsburgh and one in San Diego) in the NFL.

The Steelers continued their 1987 run on defensive backs in the fourth round by selecting S Thomas Everett. The consensus All-American out of Baylor was a devastating hitter. Everett spent five years in Pittsburgh before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1992. A Pro Bowler in 1993, Everett won two Super Bowls as a member of the Cowboys. He completed his career of nine years with a two-year stint in Tampa Bay.

Fifth-Round LB Hardy Nickerson was a veteran of 16 NFL seasons. He had 1,584 tacked, 21 sacks and 12 interceptions in 225 games. Nickerson spent his first six years as a Steeler, another seven as a Buccaneer, two with the Jags and his finale in 2002 as a Packer. Nickerson was a good player in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme, but he excelled in the middle of Tampa's 4-3 defense. In Tampa Bay he went to five Pro Bowls and was named All Pro four times. Nickerson is s member of the 1990s All-Decade team and was named the NFL Man of the Year in 1997. Nickerson is now the DC st the University of Illinois.

In Round 6a, the Steelers selected Penn State All-American and National Champion Tim Johnson. The defensive end spent three seasons with the Steelers before a salary dispute lended to his being traded to Washington for a fourth-round pick. As a Redskin, Johnson thrived for six seasons. He won a Super Bowl ring after the 1991 season and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1993. Johnson ended his 10-year career after one season in Cincinnati in 1996.

Greg Lloyd, Pick 6b from Fort Valley State, was one of the most intimidating players to ever stalk quarterbacks for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lloyd was a ferocious tackler who had 54.5 career sacks and was three times named a First-team All Pro, selected to 5 Pro Bowls and was the UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year for 1994. No. 95 spent ten seasons in Pittsburgh, is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team and a 2x Steeler team MVP.

Merril Hoge was selected in the tenth round out of Idaho State in 1987. The running back spent seven years with the Steelers and his final year with Chicago before concussion issues forced his retirement. No. 33 was a reliable back that ran for 3,135 years and 21 touchdowns. During the shocking and improbable playoff run of 1989, Hoge ran for 220 yards and a TD in two games that postseason.

Every man drafted in 1987 played in at least two games. Seeing far less action from that year's class was WR Charles Lockett (Round 3/27 games), TE Chris Kelley (Round 7/2 games), DE Charles Buchanan (Round 8/9 games), WR Joey Clinkscales (Round 9/14 games), C Paul Oswald (Round 11/6 games and TE Theo Young (Round 12/12 games).

No. 4 - 1969

Chuck Noll didn't waste any time laying the groundwork for the Steelers. In his first ever draft, the Steelers realized two cornerstones of their legendary defense and a temporary signal caller. BTSC ranks 1969 as the fourth best.

Joe Greene was the fourth overall pick in 1969 and Chuck Noll's first selection ever. Greene was the leader of the Steel Curtain defense and a major face of the franchise. The selection of Greene is credited as the start of the dynasty. "Mean Joe", a 4x Super Bowl champ, was the star of a legendary SB commercial for Coke and the face of the "One For the Thumb" campaign in the early 1980s. The fifth-overall selection out of North Texas State had 66 career sacks (although sacks weren't yet an official sack, so Greene may have had more) and was named All Pro eight times (6x first-team, 2x second-team), selected to 10 Pro Bowls and was the 1972 and 1974 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Greene is a member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade team, the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was the 1969 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The 1979 NFL Man of the Year joined Ernie Stautner as the only two players to have their number retired by the Steelers.

Butler's Terry Hanratty was the Steelers second-round choice in 1969. The 2x All-American QB at Norte Dame started for the Steelers 17 times over seven seasons. He had a 6-11 record over that time, but he was needed due to Terry Bradshaw's struggles early in his career. A winner of two rings, Hanratty closed out the 1975 Championship Game and Super Bowl X due to injuries to Bradshaw. In 1976, Hanratty was released by the Steelers and hooked on with Tampa Bay for one last season.

In Round 2b, RB/TE Warren Bankston was selected out of Tulane. Bankston enjoyed a 10-year career in the NFL, four in Pittsburgh and six in Oakland. In 114 games, Bankston had five TDs and won a title with Oakland in 1976.

The third round of '69 welcomed Jon Kolb to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kolb played 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, mostly at LT as Terry Bradshaw's blindside protector. The 4x Super Bowl champ was an NEA First-team All Pro in 1979 and placed fourth in 1978 and 1979 in the World's Strongest Man competition. The Oklahoma State Cowboy played 177 games and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team.

Chuck Beatty was Pittsburgh's seventh-round pick in 1969. Beatty had four interceptions in his four Steeler seasons.

Tenth-rounder LC Greenwood was the second member of the famed Steel Curtain to be selected in Chuck Noll's first draft. The DE from Arkansas-Pine Bluff was a 2x First-team All Pro and a 6x Pro Bowl selection. No. 68 wore gold shoes and would raise them in the air after a tackle so not to be confused with Greene. The man known as "Hollywood Bags" led the Steelers six-times in sacks and had 73 1/2 in his career (third in team history behind James Harrison and Jason Gildon). Greenwood is worthy of Hall of Fame induction, but has not been honored possibly due to the nine other 70s Steelers in Canton. He may get a call from the Veteran's Committtee some day.

WR Bob Campbell (Round 4/14 games), LB John Sodaski (Round 9/21 games), DT Clarence Washington (Round 11/27 games) and LB Doug Fisher (Round 12/10 games) made minor contributions to the team in their brief tenures.

The following 1969 picks did not play a game in the NFL:

Round 7b-T Chadwick Brown

Round 8-FL Joe Cooper

Round 13-LB John Lynch

Round 14-RB Bob Houmard

Round 15-WR Ken Liberto

Round 16-FL Dick Mosley

Round 17-K Bill Epright

Next time around, be sure to check out draft classes #3, #2 and #1.


Of BTSC's No. 6 through No. 4 Steeler draft classes, which one do you feel was the most significant?

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