Steelers Greatest Impact Draft Picks

Steelers Nation will be of one heartbeat and a shared deep breath when these words are uttered…

With the twenty-second overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select…

Will it be a cornerback? An edge rusher? A quality player that slipped through the ranks? Or will there be a surprise selection that will draw big gasps and possible catcalls?

Perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t pick at twenty-two? Maybe the team will move up or down.

It’s all part of the great suspense that has made the NFL Draft not-to-be-missed televised drama.

Yet, when it’s all said and done, the most important question for Steelers fans will be, “Did we make a good pick? Will this player make a positive impact for this team?”

High hopes for last year’s number one pick Ryan Shazier have yet to be realized but certainly the Steelers have earned a reputation for building champions through the draft.

Will this be another year when a top pick joins the team and makes a significant impact?

Time will tell, but for now here’s a look back at the Steelers fifteen biggest impact draft picks of the Super Bowl era.

Keep in mind, these players aren’t necessarily ranked as the best of all time (and some of them aren’t number one picks). But they are players who had a huge (and typically sudden) impact on Steelers history. Their inclusion here has as much to do with team make-up at the time of their selection as it does personal talent. (That’s why several Hall-Of-Famers didn’t make the cut.)

Will the Steelers strike it rich enough in 2015 to bump one of these players off the list? Steelers Nation can only hope…

Steelers Biggest Impact Draft Picks

1 Joe Greene (Rd. 1) DT 1969 North Texas State
2 Ben Roethlisberger (Rd. 1) QB 2004 Miami (OH)
3 Rod Woodson (Rd. 1) DB 1987 Purdue
4 Lynn Swann (Rd. 1) WR 1974 USC
5 Troy Polamalu (Rd. 1) DB 2003 USC
6 Franco Harris (Rd. 1) RB 1972 Penn State
7 Mel Blount (Rd. 3) DB 1970 Southern
8 Casey Hampton (Rd. 1) DT 2001 Texas
9 Barry Foster (Rd. 5) RB 1990 Arkansas
10 Dermontti Dawson (Rd. 2) C 1988 Kentucky
11 Louis Lipps (Rd. 1) WR 1984 Southern Mississippi
12 Terry Bradshaw (Rd. 1) QB 1970 Louisiana Tech
13 Alan Faneca (Rd. 1) G 1998 Louisiana State
14 Hines Ward (Rd. 3) WR 1998 Georgia
15 Greg Lloyd (Rd. 6) LB 1987 Fort Valley State

1 – Joe Greene
On the day Joe Greene was drafted, the personality of the Steelers defense was forever changed. From laughingstock to being the bullies on the block it was Greene who was more responsible for turning around the Steelers fate than any other player on the team then and in the future. Greene performed well enough to win NFL Rookie of the Year. This was just the beginning of his accolades as he later was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a 10-time Pro Bowler and 5-time First Team All Pro. Considered one of the best to ever play defensive line in the NFL many Steelers fans firmly believe Greene to be the greatest player to wear the Black and Gold.

2 – Ben Roethlisberger
It’s hard to argue that few draft picks were more significant to the Steelers than the choice of Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. The moment he stepped on the field, the Steelers became serious contenders, as he led the team to a 15-1 record in his rookie season. With three Super Bowl appearances and two Lombardi’s on display already highlighting his record, the full story of Roethlisberger’s career has yet to be written.

3 – Rod Woodson
Just as Joe Greene did decades before, Rod Woodson brought the once-proud Steelers defense out of the ashes the moment his name was called at the NFL draft in 1987 (even though he had a prolonged holdout before signing his offer sheet). A superb athlete Woodson turned the defense into an all-star show each time he stepped on the field of play. A big-time playmaker, if ever there was one, he also had 71 interceptions and 32 fumble recoveries. Woodson is easily one of the greatest players in NFL history.

4 – Lynn Swann
In the early 1970’s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were all about being a defensive team with a no-frills grind it out rushing offense. They were beginning to exercise their dominance, but they didn’t win on style points. That was…until Lynn Swann was drafted and transformed the offense into an explosive…and dare we say it…beautiful enterprise. The NFL highlight reels have never been so well treated than with the artistry of Swann’s acrobatic and graceful receptions. When Swann put on ballet shoes toward the end of his career he cemented his position as one of the more transformational players in Steelers history.

5 – Troy Polamalu
The Steelers rarely move up in the draft to select a player. To do so for a safety was a great risk. But…oh did it pay off. Many fans forget how woeful the Steelers secondary was before Troy arrived. His pick soon converted the squad of defensive backs to a team strength. Excellent players are those among the best at their position. Once in a generation players like Troy Polamalu completely redefine their position. With the famous locks of his Samoan hair flowing from his helmet Polamalu combined uncanny instincts with tremendous talent. Whenever the team needed something big to happen Polamalu was there to deliver with impeccable timing and flare. Both reckless and calculating at the same time he emerged as one of the most exciting defensive players of all time.

6 – Franco Harris
Could one play define a player’s career? Perhaps when it is popularly credited as the greatest play in NFL history. The Immaculate Reception (during a 1972 playoff game with the Oakland Raiders) will always bring fond memories to Steelers fans but it also proved to be just the beginning of a spectacular Hall of Fame career for Franco Harris. As great as the Steelers were in the 1970’s it was the running game that fueled the offense early on and it was Harris who carried the brunt of this responsibility on his broad shoulders. In many ways, Harris was the offense. With Coach Chuck Noll believing at the time a quarterback’s greatest responsibility was to hand off the ball, Harris delivered a unique combination of power, elusiveness and agility.

7 – Mel Blount
Blount was almost unanimously considered the league’s best at his position during the 1970’s and in 1975 was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Many still consider him the best cornerback of all time in the NFL. Not only was Blount a shutdown corner, he was a beat-the-living-daylights-out-of-you defender. Receivers hated playing against Blount because it meant they would spend most of the game with their facemask buried deep in the mud. Such was Blount’s dominance in the NFL that they changed the ways receivers could be treated. The five-yard bump rule that started in 1978? Not only was it due to the bullying style of the Steelers great corner but it was actually named the “Mel Blount Rule”. Unlike Deion Sanders, Blount never made “business decisions” in avoiding contact and was glad to participate in stopping the run as well. He finished his storied career in the league with 57 interceptions and is easily one of the greatest Steelers of all time. Had he not been surrounded by so much talent he would be higher than Rod Woodson on this list, but his impact was big none-the-less.

8 – Casey Hampton
One of the few players that was able to jump from the draft board into the Steelers starting defensive lineup Casey Hampton made a huge impact (and we do mean huge) from the beginning of his rookie season moving forward. The man affectionately known as “Big Snack” by his teammates played as big a role as any in providing consistency and excellence in Dick LeBeau’s defenses. Given the responsibility of plugging up the run and eating up interior blockers Hampton took on the task with pride, tenacity and his own brand of humor.

9 – Barry Foster
Barry Foster was a great fifth-round value for the Steelers in that he rapidly emerged as one of the top running backs in the league being referred to as “the other Barry” (in reference to All-World Barry Sanders). During the run-centric early days of Coach Bill Cowher, Foster was one of the original “I’ll run him until the wheels fall off” back as in 1992 he ran the ball 390 times in a season. Many fans have not forgiven Foster for how his career with the Steelers ended but few can deny the impact he had in his first few years.

10 – Dermontti Dawson
Few athletes of any size combined grace, power and speed like Dermontti Dawson. His teammates called him “Dirt” because of the way he grinded opponents into the ground. Dawson single-handedly redefined his position as a “pulling center”. No one before and no one since could pull to the edge with such pace and agility only to deliver a blow with tremendous force on some poor cornerback or outside linebacker. Almost matching his greatness on the field was Dawson’s humility off of the field which made one of the most beloved players in the league.

11 – Louis Lipps
As dismal it was being a Steelers fan in the 1980’s the selection of wide receiver Louis Lipps provided the most joy. Sadly, Lipps has become somewhat of a forgotten man in team history, but this has more to do with the dismal memories of the decade rather than the player. After getting mentored by Hall of Famer John Stallworth in his rookie season Lipps went on to take the torch as the next great Steelers receiver. Not only was he a great ball catcher but he was one of the league’s best at punt returning.

12 – Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw this low on the list? Well…yes…because it took several years for the Cajun to have an “instant impact” on the team. But he’s on this list (basically bending the rules) because the Steelers would not have won four Super Bowls without him. This is particularly the case with the final two Lombardi wins where the team’s offense carried the day. A player blessed with a tremendous arm and athletic talent and with an obvious charm and wit, he was the perfect leader for the offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

13 – Alan Faneca
Few road graders in Steelers past and present had more of an impact than 1998 first rounder Alan Faneca. From the time he stepped into camp during his rookie season, the Steelers knew they had struck the equivalent of draft gold. Faneca instantly upgraded the offensive line and his pulls and clear-outs were a picture of joy and violence. A 9-time Pro Bowler and 9-time All Pro Faneca is considered to be among the best to have ever played his position.

14 – Hines Ward
Hines was one of the toughest players and best blockers to ever play the receiving position. He changed the way fans measured Steelers receivers by being celebrated as much over a bone rattling crack-back block than a game winning touchdown. A true Pittsburgh classic.

15 – Greg Lloyd
Lloyd, a black belt in the martial arts took nothing from nobody…and that included his own teammates. He was just…mean…and that fit in perfect for the Steelers elite defenses of the 1990’s. In addition to having the perfect temperament he also had top level talent and was the prototypical edge rush 3-4 linebacker. Not only was Lloyd capable of getting to the quarterback—having collected 53.5 sacks for the team in his career—but he seemed always to make big plays when the team needed them most. Was he meaner than Jack Lambert? Well…that’s a late night argument for some dimly lit bar. But Lloyd makes the list here because he was surrounded by nicer guys. Ergo: Bigger impact…and your number fifteen.

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