Backups and special teamers.
That’s typically the fruit of third day draft selections. But every once in a while, a real hidden gem is found in the late rounds and the Pittsburgh Steelers have proven better at digging them up than most teams.
Will there be a Steelers player selected deep in the 2015 draft who will beat the odds and rise to superstar status? Will one of them even someday make the NFL Hall of Fame?
It has happened before and it could happen again.
For ample evidence, here is an impressive list of the Top Fifteen Draft Steals for the Steelers during the Super Bowl era. The rankings are weighted heavily in favor of draft position. In other words, they are positioned in terms of relative draft value. The bigger the steal, the higher they rank. To be eligible players had to be in the fourth round and later.
|1||L.C. Greenwood (Rd. 10)||DE||1969||Ark Pine-Bluff|
|2||Mike Webster (Rd. 5)||C||1974||Wisconsin|
|3||Greg Lloyd (Rd. 6)||LB||1987||Fort Valley State|
|4||Antonio Brown (Rd. 6)||WR||2010||Central Michigan|
|5||Mike Wagner (Rd. 11)||DB||1971||West, Illinois|
|6||Ernie Holmes (Rd. 8)||DT||1971||Texas Southern|
|7||John Stallworth (Rd. 4)||WR||1974||Alabama A&M|
|8||Dwight White (Rd. 4)||DE||1971||Texas A&M-Commerce|
|9||John Jackson (Rd. 10)||T||1988||East Kentucky|
|10||David Little (Rd. 7)||LB||1981||Florida|
|11||Darren Perry (Rd. 8)||DB||1992||Penn State|
|12||Brett Keisel (Rd. 7)||DE||2002||Brigham Young|
|13||Kelvin Beachum (Rd. 7)||T||2012||Southern Methodist|
|14||Aaron Smith (Rd. 4)||DE||1999||Arkansas State|
|15||Barry Foster (Rd. 5)||RB||1990||Arkansas|
Just missed the cut:
Clark Haggans (Rd. 5, 2000), Tunch Ilkin (Rd. 6, 1980), Ike Taylor (Rd. 4, 2003), Justin Strzelczyk (Rd. 11, 1990), Carlos Emmons (Rd. 7, 1995)
- L.C. Greenwood (Round 10)
L.C. Greenwood was selected nine rounds below Mean Joe Greene in the historic 1969 draft that began the seismic shift converting the Pittsburgh Steelers from perennial losers to arguably the greatest football dynasty of all time. Greenwood emerged as one of the central characters of the original Steel Curtain. A six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro, many cite Greenwood as the most egregious oversight by the Hall of Fame selection committees. For those who were blessed to see his trademark gold shoes chasing after hapless quarterbacks he will remain one of the most colorful personalities and talented players to don a Steelers jersey. And by being drafted in the tenth round, he is also the team’s best ever value picks.
- Mike Webster (Round 5)
If there is another position other than linebackers that the Steelers are famous for it would have to be center. With elite players like Ray Mansfield, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings and now Maurkice Pouncey manning the center of the line, it’s been one great torch passed on to another. But there is none to compare with the Hall of Fame center Mike Webster who was part of the greatest draft in Steelers history if not in NFL history. (Hall of Famers Lynn Swann (1), Jack Lambert (2) and John Stallworth (4) were also selected in 1974). Nicknamed “Iron Mike” and called “Webby” by his fellow teammates Webster was hugely talented. But it was his work ethic and strength of character that made him one of the greatest centers in NFL history. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler and 5-time First Team All Pro. Not bad production for a fifth round draft pick.
- Greg Lloyd (Round 6)
Greg Lloyd was the prototypical Steelers 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. Lloyd’s career ended with injury having first blown out his knee and then later suffering from a bizarre staff infection after an ankle sprain. He got back on the field but was never the same great player that awed Steelers fans and struck terror in the hearts of opponents for so many years. But Steelers Nation would be thrilled if another Greg Lloyd could be discovered this year in Round 6.
- Antonio Brown (Round 6)
Antonio Brown was one of the original “Young Money” receivers for the Steelers teaming up with fellow posse members Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. With both Wallace and Sanders taking their money and running, the Steelers wisely chose the best of the bunch. Brown was originally the least regarded of the three but his famous “ball on the side of the helmet” catch in his rookie season flashed the greatness that would soon come to be fully realized. Brown proved to be one of the NFL’s best in 2013 and, remarkably, stepped it up another notch in 2014. If he can avoid making the mistake of a contract holdout…something that won’t sit well with Steelers Nation…the hardworking Brown might continue to climb up on this list.
- Mike Wagner (Round 11)
When Steelers fans throw out Troy Polamalu’s name as the greatest safety in the history of the team it is with some apologies to the play of Mike Wagner. Even with names like Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake in the mix there has never been a Pittsburgh secondary the likes of the Steelers great defense of the seventies and Wagner was as big of a contributor as anyone else. He backed up his corners, squelched big plays and dished out punishing hits in the days when receivers weren’t wrapped up in bubble wrap. He was a two-time Pro Bowler (as well as many of his teammates of the time) and ended up with 36 career interceptions during a time in the NFL when passing was just a passing thought.
- Ernie Holmes (Round 8)
Ernie Holmes, who was known as “Fats” to his teammates, was perhaps the least decorated of the players who made up the front four of the 1970’s all-world Steelers defense (back then they ran a 4-3 and the Steel Curtain only referred to the defensive line). But he was as tough and feared as the rest. His career with the Black and Gold was cut short because of weight problems (and Coach Chuck Noll’s insistence on fit, committed players) but that didn’t keep Holmes from checking in as the heavyweight of all time Steelers eighth round draft picks.
- John Stallworth (Round 4)
You’ve got to be top notch to be considered a draft steal in the fourth round and this Hall of Famer was that and much more. Although his receiving partner, Lynn Swann, was spectacular and balletic, Stallworth steadily made many of the big plays including under the Super Bowl spotlights. Many consider the two to be the top receiving duo in NFL history. Stallworth played for 14 productive seasons with the Steelers with 537 receptions (the team record until Hines Ward bested it in 2005), 8,723 yards and 63 TD’s. Stallworth was tall with excellent speed and leaping ability which allowed him to often rise above the crowd to claim the ball. A Calvin Johnson type of player Stallworth was highly valued by his coaches and teammates and was voted the team’s MVP twice.
- Dwight White (Round 4)
The player known as “Mad Dog” because of his unrelenting drive to get to the quarterback was once described by Dan Rooney as “one of the greatest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform”. Technically, he gathered 46 sacks (this wasn’t an official statistic back then) but his most famous one came in Super Bowl IX when he bottled up elusive Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkington for a safety, the only points scored in the first half of the game the Steelers would eventually win 16-6. The most surprising thing about his play during this game was that he was hospitalized before and after the game for pneumonia but played anyway. White was one of the famous four of the Steel Curtain defensive line.
- John Jackson (Round 10)
If Kelvin Beachum is looking for a source of career inspiration he need only dip into the 1990’s when a young tackle by the name of John Jackson was getting as little respect as Rodney Dangerfield. Despite others being drafted to take his position Jackson fought off all naysayers and established himself as the Steelers left tackle. His perseverance paid off as he emerged as one of the top players at his position by the end of the decade and leveraged it into a big free agent’s contract with San Diego at the tail end of his career.
- David Little (Round 7)
You won’t see too many defensive highlight reels in the woeful Steelers decade of the 1980’s but if you do chances are it will include middle linebacker David Little making a tackle, causing a fumble or getting an interception. Little kept the tradition of great Steelers linebackers alive and provided much needed occasional joy for diehard fans those days, serving up punishing blows and being a stalwart of the defense.
- Darren Perry (Round 8)
This local Penn State graduate entered his rookie camp as a fan favorite and retired years later as one of most cherished players of 1990’s. Perry was an overachiever who made up for his lack of speed with a superior intellect, precision coverage angles and a huge work ethic. He partnered with Carnell Lake for an elite safety combination and covered for Rod Woodson’s Achilles Heel of quarterback pump fakes on a number of occasions. His canniness allowed him to collect 32 interceptions in his career as well as leveraging it into a successful career as an NFL coach (including stints with the Steelers).
- Brett Keisel (Round 7)
“Da Beard” will rank much higher in Steelers lore than in NFL gen-pop as such is the fate of defensive ends in the team’s 3-4 scheme. Just ask Aaron Smith…one of the greatest to play the position. When Keisel joined the roster as a rookie there was buzz and bewilderment about his athleticism, especially for such a big man. A talented basketball player who even had NBA aspirations at one point he was slow to establish a starting role having suffered early career injuries. But when Kimo von Oelhoffen left for free agency in 2006 Keisel stepped in and made the position his own, quickly emerging as one of the leaders of the NFL’s perennially best defense. Keisel will be missed in 2015 but his legacy as one of the great Steelers draft steals will remain.
- Kelvin Beachum (Round 7)
Considered undersized, Beachum is absolutely intent on proving everyone wrong and combines an impressive work ethic with a student-like intensity in seeking to master the game. He has earned the respect and confidence of his coaches and teammates and his fan bandwagon is growing each season. Anytime you can get a quality left tackle in the seventh round, you’re committing NFL larceny.
- Aaron Smith (Round 4)
Outside of Pittsburgh few fans know about Aaron Smith, but many of the Steelers defensive coaches considered him the most valuable player on the squad. Smith, a lanky man with unique athleticism and strength took a couple of years to master the 3-4 end position but once he did, many considered him among the best to have ever played the role. Unselfish and willing to do the dirty work while the Steelers linebackers got the limelight Smith almost always was double-teamed against the pass but still managed to gather 44 sacks during his tenure. During his prime, the left side of the defensive line was almost always impossible for teams to penetrate and many of them just stopped trying. A truly great Steeler in both play and blue-collar character.
- Barry Foster (Round 5)
Barry Foster’s career may have been short lived, and some may even say it was a flash in the pan. But, Foster went from being a fifth round selection to being the feature back on an explosive Steelers running game. In 1992 Coach Bill Cowher had Foster run the ball 390 times that season. That punishment allowed him to earn 1,690 yards, still the Steelers single season record. Foster ran violently, but also had shake and shuffle. Though he didn’t last too long, his mammoth early production certainly provided high value for a fifth rounder.