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

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BTSC concludes its three-part series of ranking the best draft classes the Steelers have selected since 1966.

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's time to get to the best of the very best draft classes that the brass of the Pittsburgh Steelers has chosen since the beginning of the Super Bowl era in 1966.

But first a recap of Parts One and Two...

#10 1992

#9 2007

#8 2002

#7 2010

#6 1998

#5 1987

#4 1969

Now for the Top 3

#3

1970

While not as many starters came from the 1970 draft as did in 1971, the Pittsburgh franchise found two HOFers in the first three rounds. These were two groundbreaking and revolutionary players in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's why BTSC ranks 1970 at #3.

The Steelers won a coin toss over the Chicago Bears to select Terry Bradshaw with the first pick in the 1970 draft. Without that luck, the Steelers may have ended up just another team like Detroit and Cleveland. Bradshaw is a member of the 1970s All-Decade team and a 1978 First-team All Pro and NFL MVP, as well as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. The 2x Super Bowl MVP, 3x Pro Bowler and 4x SB champ was recently named the fourth-best of all time of first overall selections.

WR Ron Shanklin (Round 2) was the leading receiver for the first four of his five seasons in Pittsburgh. He started in 66 of his 67 Steeler games and was named to the Pro Bowl and as the Team's MVP after 10 TDs in 1973. Before giving way to the dynamic duo of Stallworth/Swann, Shanklin was a starter in Super Bowl IX. He was traded to the Bears for a second rounder in 1975, his final season in the league.

Round 3 saw CB Mel Blount drafted to Pittsburgh. Blount was 6'3" and 205 pounds. His physical style of play forced the NFL to adopt the five-yard chuck rule to try and neutralize him. Blount played 200 games in his 14-year career. He intercepted quarterbacks 57 times, including 11 to lead the league in 1975 and secure him the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Hall of Famer was a 5x Pro Bowl selection and four times named first-team All Pro and two times to the second-team. No. 47 was also named to the 1980s All-Decade and to the NFL's 75th Aniversary team. Blount also won four SB championships in Pittsburgh.

Ed George (Round 4) opted to go to Montreal where he was a five-time all star and 1974 Lineman of the Year in the CFL. He returned to the NFL in 1975 and played in 29 games for Baltimore and Phily. One only wonders how much stronger a solid o-line could have been if George chose to play in Pittsburgh.

WR Jon Staggers (Round 5) played 70 games in the NFL, mostly returning kicks. Staggers played 26 games over two seasons in Pittsburgh and played four seasons in Green Bay and Detroit. WR Dave Smith (Round 8/44 games), LB Carl Crennel (Round 9/3 games), C Calvin Hunt (Round 11/21 games), T Rick Sharp (Round 12/29 games) and DE Bert Askson (Round 14/54 games) all made limited contributions to the Steelers and other organizations.

The following 1970 picks did not play a game in the NFL:

Round 4b-RB Jim Evanson

Round 6-LB Manuel Barrera

Round 6b-T Clarence Kegler

Round 7-RB Danny Griffin

Round 10-DB Isaiah Brown

Round 13-RB Billy Mann

Round 15-DT Glen Keppy

Round 16-DT Frank Yanossy

Round 17-TE Harry Key

#2

1971

A draft that produced seven Super Bowl starters for the Steelers would be considered the best draft in franchise history for most teams. Even though 1971 only added one Canton enshrinee and two members of the esteemed Steel Curtain, it still doesn't rank better than second among the best in Pittsburgh history. BTSC ranks 1971 #2.

The Steelers made a concerted effort to give Terry Bradshaw offensive weapons to throw to. With the eighth pick of the first round in '71, the Steelers added Grambling's Frank Lewis. Lewis spent seven very productive years in Steeltown, catching 128 balls for 2,086 yards and 16 touchdowns. Due to the emergence of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, the Steelers traded the SB IX starter to the Bills in 1978. In Buffalo, the 1981 Pro Bowl selection played six more seasons (13 total) and ended his career in 1983 with 397 catches, 6,724 yards and 40 touchdowns in all.

Johnstown's Jack Ham was drafted in the second round of the 1971 draft to the Steelers and gave the franchise a dominating OLB for the entire decade. Ham had 32 interceptions in his career. The Penn Stater was named All Pro eight times (six first-team, two second-team), selected to eight Pro Bowls and was the 1975 Pro Football Wriers Association award for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Ham is a member of the 70s All-Decade team, the NFL's 75th Aniversary team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The third-rounder, RB Steve Davis, played 39 games over three seasons for the Steelers. Davis averaged 25.9 YPR on kickoff and had nine rushing TDs over five seasons. He spent his last two years with the Jets.

Gerry Mullins, from USC, was one of Terry Bradshaw's chief protectors from 1971-1979. The man they called "Moon" was drafted with the Steelers’ first pick in Round 4. Mullins played on all four Super Bowl teams and made huge contributions, including a pulling block on a sweep for Franco Harris' TD in SB IX and an onside-kick recovery in SB XIV.

With Pick 4b and 8c in 1971's draft, the Steelers completed the initial Steel Curtain by adding DE Dwight White (3x Pro Bowler and 4x SB Champ) and DT Ernie Holmes (1974 All Pro/2x SB Champ). "Mad Dog' White (1971-1980) was so intense that he scored the Steelers first ever Super Bowl points on a safety from a sack of Fran Tarkenton while still suffering from pneumonia. "Fats" Holmes (1971-1977) played to the right of Joe Greene for seven seasons and was famous for sporting an arrowhead Mohawk and an incident with a rifle and a police helicopter. Google that one.

Larry Brown was picked at 5a in 1971 as a tight end from Kansas. Another of the 22 Steelers that won four rings in that era, Brown was the leading receiver and caught the first-ever Steeler Super Bowl TD pass against Minnesota in Super Bowl IX. Chuck Noll permanently switched him to RT in 1977 (initially meant to be a temporary because of an injury that limited Brown's mobility), where he played the remaining eight years of his 14-year career, and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1982. When once asked which one of his players that wasn't enshrined in Canton deserved it the most, Noll answered that Brown was the most Hall of Fame-worthy.

The co-leader in 1973 with eight interceptions, Mike Wagner ended his 10-year career in 1980 with 36 picks. This 4x Super Bowl winner was the Steelers 11th rounder in 1971. Twice an All-Pro (1x PFW First-team in 1973 and 1x AP Second-team in 1976), Wagner ended his career with 12 fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles.

A few players spent some time in the league, but made small contributions. They are G Mel Holmes (Round 5b/29 games), DB Ralph Anderson (Round 5c/34 games), DE Craig Hanneman (Round 6/47 games), RB Larry Crowe (Round 8a/6 games) and WR Al Young (Round 13/15 games).

The following 1971 picks did not play a game in the NFL:

Round 5d-LB Fred Brister

Round 7-T Worthy McClure

Round 8b-K Paul Rogers

Round 9-LB Mike Anderson

Round 10-TE Jim O'Shea

Round 14-DB McKinney Evans

Round 15-G Ray Makin

Round 16-DB Walter Huntley

Round 17-RB Danny Ehle

#1

1974

This is an absolute no-brainer. When a draft class produces four Hall of Famers and a combined 16 Super Bowl rings, there is nowhere to place them but the NFL’s best of all-time. The Steelers wanted to pick John Stallworth earlier than the fourth round in the second. But that would have cost them Jack Lambert. The legendary Bill Nunn told them to hold off and they would still get Stallworth. He was a scouting genius and the rest is history. Plus, nobody can argue with four Hall of Famers.

With that, BTSC presents 1974 as the greatest of them all.

The acrobatic Lynn Swann was the Steelers 21st pick in the first round of 1974 out of USC, where he now serves as the athletic director. Swann brought a new dimension to the Steelers on offense. No. 88 had 336 catches, 5,462 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns in his nine-year career. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee was a 4x Super Bowl champ and the MVP of SB X, where he made one of the most extraordinary catches in the game's history. The 1981 NFL Man of the Year was honored as a 3x All Pro (First-team in 1978 and 2x Second-team), 2x Pro Bowler and was named to the 1970s All-Decade team.

The Steelers selected the intimidation factor of their defense in the second round of '74 in the form of Jack Lambert. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee out of Kent State had 32 career picks, was named All Pro (7x First-team and 2x Second-team) and to the Pro Bowl nine times. The 1976 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year is also a member of the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade team and the NFL 75th Aniversary Team. Lambert was named 1974's AP Defensive Rookie of the Year the first of his 11 seasons.

The Steelers went receiver again with their first pick of the fourth round in 1974. Alabama A&M-produced John Stallworth played 14 years in Pittsburgh from '74 to '87. With 537 catches for 8,723 yards and 63 trips to paydirt, Stallworth remains one of the greatest receivers in franchise history. No. 82 was named All Pro (First-team in 1979), selected to three Pro Bowls and was the 1984 PFW NFL Comeback Player of the Year. The 4x Super Bowl champ is a member of the Pro Football Hall of a Fame.

DB Jimmy Allen (Round 4b) won two titles with the Steelers in four years with the team. Allen had five interceptions in 1977 and seven of his 31 career picks in Pittsburgh. Allen finished his career with 24 more picks over four years in Detroit.

Mike Webster was a true iron man for the Pittsburgh Steelers, starting every game from 1976-1985. In his 17-year Hal of Fame career (15 with Pittsburgh and two with Kansas City), "Iron Mike" was named All Pro (7x First-team), selected to nine Pro Bowls and is also a member of the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade team and the NFL 75th Aniversary Team. Sadly, the 4x SB champ died of a heart attack at age 50. He also was the first NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE.

DT Jim Wolf DT (Round 6a/25 games), T Rick Druschel (Round 6b/11 games), RB Tommy Reamon (Round 9a/11 games) and DT Charles Davis (Round 9b/74 games) all spent some time in the NFL with minor results.

The following 1974 picks did not play a game in the NFL:

Round 7a-T Allen Sitterle

Round 7b-TE Scott Garske

Round 8-LB Mark Gefart

Round 10a-G Jim Kregal

Round 10b-DB Dave Atkinson

Round 11-RB Dickie Morton

Round 12-LB Hugh Lickiss

Round 13-QB Frank Kolch

Round 14-DB Bruce Henley

Round 15-DT Larry Hunt

Round 16-LB Octavus Morgan

Round 17-DE Larry Moore

Poll

Of BTSC’s Top 10 Steeler draft classes, which do you feel was the greatest of the great?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    1992
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    2007
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    2002
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    2010
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    1998
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    1987
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    1969
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    1970
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    1971
    (8 votes)
  • 92%
    1974
    (398 votes)
428 votes total Vote Now