If I asked you what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best draft class of the past 25 years was, what year would you submit? 2004 yielded them Ben Roethlisberger, but not much else. They got Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor both in 2002. Joey Porter and Aaron Smith among others were selected in 1999. How about this one? Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, and Deshea Townsend back in 1998.
That would have to be their best draft class of the past 25 years. Except for, you know, the existence of the 2010 NFL Draft, which yielded among others Maurkice Pouncey and Antonio Brown. Hardly an afterthought, Emmanuel Sanders became a Pro Bowl wide receiver in his own right later with the Denver Broncos. Jason Worilds and the serviceable Jonathan Dwyer were also produced from that class.
By any standards, it was a damn good haul that yielded potentially two Hall of Famers, though Pouncey’s odds of making it are waning. Faneca will be a Hall of Famer sooner or later, though Ward will have a much more difficult time.
According to at least one NFL Network writer, that 2010 class for the Steelers was not just their best class of the past 25 years, it was among the best in the league. Marc Sessler argues that it was the seventh-best draft class in the NFL during that span.
“One year after drafting deep-threat Mike Wallace, the Steelers found a true wideout for the ages. A blinding steal in the sixth round, Brown has morphed into a bona fide MVP candidate and the heart of Pittsburgh’s offense”, Sessler wrote.
“With the Steelers also finding Sanders in Round 3, Pittsburgh’s front-office folks earned their reputation as magicians when it comes to scouting receivers. Pouncey, meanwhile, is a six-time Pro Bowler, while Worilds was a valuable and sought-after pass rusher before his stunning retirement from football in 2015”.
At the top of the list, and more than fairly, was the first-ever Baltimore Ravens draft class of 1996 that yielded Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, a pair of first-ballot Hall of Famers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ class of 1995 came second, bringing in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
The earliest draft class on the list is the Seattle Seahawks’ 2012 class, ranked fifth, which produced Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, and Jeremy Lane, among others. Their 2010 class that earned them Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Russell Okung, and Golden Tate was ahead of that at four.
I will say that the Steelers’ 1998 class should have been in consideration for an honorable mention, though would only 15 classes named in total, it’s a pretty small sample size, and even the Philadelphia Eagles’ class with Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and Nick Foles was an honorable mention.
Of course the single greatest draft class of all time belongs to the 1974 Steelers, which produced four Hall of Famers in Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster. That doesn’t even include Donnie Shell, who was an undrafted free agent signed that year.