Looking for the greatest draft hits of the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past five decades? Top of the charts, number one in your hearts?
Then look no further than Steelers Depot where we started dishing out hot vinyl with the Ninth Round (plus) in our prior article. Now we’re at number eight (on our countdown to the first round)… and the truth is… it ain’t great.
You would think if you had over fifty draft classes to choose from, an organization like the Steelers would have a long list of solid gold winners to list here. In some ways, this is an affirmation that drafting only through seven rounds is the best approach for the NFL to take.
Why not let the rest of the undrafted players (after the seventh round) choose their best opportunities offered by all 32 teams?
As we shared in the launch article of this series, the eighth round (and beyond) of the draft disappeared in 1994 as a result of a players lawsuit led by Hall of Famer Reggie White that resolved itself with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Since that time, there has only been seven rounds of the draft. Although, it could be argued that with all of the compensatory draft picks the NFL is tossing out like frisbees on a sunny day at the park (37 this year) that it kind of is like having eight rounds once again.
But enough with the small talk…let’s lace them up and get it on:
Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Picks | Eighth Round
|1||Ernie Holmes||DT||1971||Texas Southern|
|2||Darren Perry||DB||1992||Penn State|
|3||Harry Newsome||P||1985||Wake Forest|
|5||Alex Van Pelt||QB||1993||Pittsburgh|
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. He was once quoted as saying, “I don’t mind knocking somebody out. If I hear a moan and a groan coming from a player I’ve hit, the adrenaline flows within me. I get more energy and play harder.” This intensity followed him off the field where he once fired shots at a police helicopter. Holmes was a force against the run and would literally destroy opposing linemen. 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. His post-NFL years saw him settle down as a pastor of his own church, but sadly, he died in a tragic car wreck at age 59.
This local Penn State graduate entered his rookie camp as a fan favorite and retired years later as one of the most cherished players of the 1990s. 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 leverage it into a successful career as an NFL coach (including stints with the Steelers).
A punter makes this list? And one that split his career in Minnesota? Well…this is the eighth round after all. And Newsome ended up having a heck of a leg. In fact, his 84-yard boomer was the longest in the history of Three Rivers Stadium. This would have rewarded him with even more accolades here…had it not been for the fact he was wearing purple when he kicked it.
How is it possible to make the Steelers’ Greatest Draft Hits as…a backup? Because Loren happened to be the backup for Hall of Fame Steelers linebackers in the 1970s. This included filling in admirably for all-time great Andy Russell due to injury in Super Bowl IX. Surviving eleven seasons as an eighth-round pick on a roster as talented as the one he played on was enough to get him props here.
Alex Van Pelt
Van Pelt makes the list only on sentimentality…because he hailed from the University of Pittsburgh and was the last eighth-round pick the Steelers ever had. During a time when the Steelers were trying out ballboys for the starting quarterback position fans were outraged when he got cut at the end of his rookie pre-season. He ended up landing with the Buffalo Bills where he enjoyed a long career as a quality backup.
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