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Steelers Fantasy Island: Re-drafting 1975-1979

We all need a little fantasy in our lives. Open your minds and see what might have been if we could change the top picks for the Steelers in the 1975-1979 drafts. This is Part One of an eight-part series.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Have you ever been in love with somebody from afar or wanted something so bad that eluded you? Then you find out years later that the object of your affection felt the same way about you all along or what you desired to achieve could have been yours, only if you acted upon it? I have. At 45-years of age, I love my life. I love my family. I'm lucky to have a decent job, but wish I had an easier way to provide. Sometimes, I wonder what my life could have been if I followed my dreams and moved to Los Angeles when I had the chance. My life could have ended up better, but 95% of the people that I cherish in my life would not be in it. There would be a different cast of characters. On the other hand, my life could have ended in tragedy too. Then I realize that I’m glad that I followed the path that kept me where I am.

I’ve been cognizantly following the Steelers for 39 years now and I'm greatly proud of my team, just like I'm proud of the family that I formed and wouldn't and won’t want to change anything. But I do wonder what might have been sometimes. I think about how many Super Bowl rings Dan Marino could have had wearing black and gold, I imagine the Steelers not trading down with the Cowboys in 1990 and Emmitt Smith barreling into the Three Rivers end zone and I fantasize about a defensive backfield consisting of Aeneas Williams, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake and Steve Atwater. All these players were available to the Steelers at one point. Some of their picks were blockbuster, some were just busts.

Imagination, hindsight and the internet allow us to slip into this kind of fantasy. Now, I know that altering just one first or second round draft pick could completely change the NFL record books. I also am aware that a player’s fortune with one team might be different with another and that picking a certain player would alter the team’s future needs. There are definite flaws with this particular series. Again...this is all for fun and the sake of fantasy. So save yourself the potential Carpal Tunnel and don't explain why these scenarios wouldn't work and that you like your team for better or worse. I do too. I just want to spend some time on Fantasy Island. Won’t you please join me As we screw with the space-time continuum.

Before we get started, there are a few guidelines to follow. I only redrafted with players selected in the 15 spots after the Steelers initial pick. I did cheat one time, later on, see if you can find it. I only included the first two rounds of each draft. I started with 1975 and broke the series into eight parts. Finally, have fun with this. Even though we can't change history, they do in the why can't we?

Without further ado...Welcome to Steelers Fantasy Island


Round 1 Pick 26

Actual Pick: CB Dave Brown-Michigan

Re-Pick: No Change (Sort of)

Brown was an amazing corner for 15 years in the NFL. The only problem was that it occurred mostly in Seattle, because the Steelers left him unprotected in the 1976 Expansion Draft. 61 total pickoffs for the 2x First-team All Pro and member of the Seahawks Ring of Honor. Instead of picking someone else, protect his rights and keep him.

Round 2 Pick 51

Actual Pick: DE Bob Barber-Grambling

Re-Pick: CB Mike Washington-Alabama (Round 3 Pick 53)

Barber didn't stick with the Steelers to ever play in the black and gold, he played four seasons in Green Bay to little fanfare, while Washington had 28 interceptions in nine seasons with Tampa Bay.


Round 1 Pick 28

Actual Pick: TE Bennie Cunningham-Clemson

Re-Pick: No change

No. 89 gave the Steelers ten quality seasons. He caught 20 TDs in that time and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team.

Round 2 Pick 37

Actual Pick: G Ray Pinney-Washington

Re-Pick: C Randy Cross-UCLA (Round 2 Pick 42)

I’ll probably get grief for this one and if I do, I deserve it. This was a tough one. Pinney was solid in various spots on the offensive line where he started 81 of 125 games. However, Cross, although an annoying color-analyst, was a 4x All Pro for the 49ers with 180 starts.

Round 2 Pick 47

Actual Pick: QB Mike Kruczek-Boston College

Re-Pick: No Change

Kruczek wasn't blockbuster by any means, but there weren't really any better options here. Plus you can't argue with 6-0 to start a career. For a QB, that's pretty good.

Round 2 Pick 56

Actual Pick: C James Files-McNeese State

Re-Pick: DT Dewey Selmon-Oklahoma (Round 2 Pick 60)

If you’ve never heard of James Files, it's because the center never played a regular-season game for the Steelers. Selmon played six NFL seasons of solid defense, mostly for Tampa Bay.


Round 1 Pick 21

Actual Pick: LB Robin Cole-New Mexico

Re-Pick: No Change

Robin Cole gave the Steelers 11 solid seasons at linebacker and had 16.5 sacks and five picks. Cole was an All Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 1984.

Round 2 Pick 48

Actual Pick: RB Sidney Thornton-NW Louisiana

Re-Pick: RB Pete Johnson-Ohio State (Round 2 Pick 49)

Sidney Thornton’s six years, 1,512 yards rushing and 18 TDs on the ground for the Steelers pales in comparison to Pete Johnson’s eight years, 5,626 yards and 76 rushing TDs. Johnson was picked one slot later By Cincinnati.


Round 1 Pick 22

Actual Pick: CB Ron Johnson-Eastern Michigan

Re-Pick: TE Ozzie Newsome-Alabama (Round 1 Pick 23)

Ron Johnson was actually underrated in some opinions. The DB had 13 interceptions in seven Steeler seasons. However, the very next pick was the Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome. Enough said.

Round 2 Pick 49

Actual Pick: DE Willie Fry-Notre Dame

Re-Pick: QB Matt Cavanaugh-Pittsburgh (Round 2 Pick 50)

Fry never played a game for the Steelers due to torn tendons in both hands and a separated shoulder. He did receive a championship ring though. Cavanaugh was a local hero for helping lead Pitt to the National Title in 1976. He was mostly a reliable backup, but still started 19 games in his 14-year career.


Round 1 Pick 28

Actual Pick: RB Greg Hawthorne-Baylor

Re-Pick: DT Fred Smerlas-Boston College (Round 2 Pick 32)

Hawthorne spent five years with the Steelers and had 522 yards rushing, 710 receiving yards and 10 TDs total as a backup to Franco Harris. While Smerlas, a 1982 All Pro. racked up 18.5 sacks and went to five Pro Bowls.

Round 2 Pick 56

Actual Pick: LB Zack Valentine-East Carolina

Re-Pick: RB Tony Nathan-Alabama (Round 2 Pick 61)

Zack Valentine never started in his three seasons as a Steeler, but appeared in 48 games on defense. Nathan had over 7,000 yards and 32 TDs rushing and receiving in his nine years in the league. He could have been a valuable weapon in the Steeler offense.

Be sure to look for Part 2, as BTSC redrafts 1980-1985