Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits From Noll To Tomlin (Fifth Round)

Mike Webster

It will be nothing but crickets in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft this year for the Pittsburgh Steelers, barring a trade.

Yup. No sixth rounder. And no fifth rounder.

The team traded away its 2023 fifth-round selection to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for Ahkello Witherspoon in September 2021.

How has that worked so far for Pittsburgh? Hmm,mm….

Does this mean you should be totally bummed the Steelers will likely be null and void in this draft slot in 2023?

Not if you are a student of the Steelers’ recent draft history.

You’d have to go all of the way back to the year 2000 to witness team scouts pulling a golden rabbit out of the fifth-round hat.

Somewhat surprisingly in this millennium, players chosen by the Steelers at this point of the draft have, in most cases, only provided team depth.

See if you can recall any of these Steelers fifth rounders: (2009) Joe Burnett, (2007) Cameron Stephenson, (2006) Omar Jacobs, (2006) Charles Davis, and (2004) Nathaniel Adibi?


Well…here are a few players who should be a bit more familiar: (2014) Shaquille Richardson, (2014) Wesley Johnson, (2013) Terry Hawthorne, (2012) Chris Rainey, (2011) Chris Carter, (2010) Crezdon Butler, (2010) Chris Scott, and (2010) Stevenson Sylvester.

What? Still not making you want to go out and buy their jersey?

How about the most recent fifth rounders: (2017) Brian Allen, (2018) Marcus Allen, (2018) Jaylen Samuels, (2019) Zach Gentry and (2021) Isaiahh Loudermilk.

Okay…Zach Gentry has provided some lift to the offense, and we were all pretty excited about Samuels. Yet, before we fit Samuels with a yellow jacket it should sober us up a bit to note he’s amassed only 468 rushing yards and one touchdown since 2018. We’ll need to wait a little on that one.

This disappointment of not even having a selection in the fifth round also was experienced by Steelers Nation in both 2020 and 2022.

Let’s just say former General Manager Kevin Colbert never really found his groove in the fifth round. Unless a trade is made, Omar Khan appears to be starting off on the same wrong foot. Since he was part of the decision-making team in recent drafts, he can’t just blame Kevin. That’s one of the downsides of being an inside hire.

Yet, despite marginal returns over the past 25 years, it doesn’t mean the fifth-round well has always been dry for the Steelers. In fact, the team managed to select one of the team’s most famous Hall of Famers during this round.

So let’s start spinning some classic vinyl here as we continue with your greatest Steelers draft hits from Noll to Tomlin.

Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | Fifth Round

1 Mike Webster C 1974 Wisconsin
2 Clark Haggans LB 2000 Colorado St.
3 Barry Foster RB 1990 Arkansas
4 Hardy Nickerson LB 1987 California
5 Craig Wolfley OG 1980 Syracuse

Mike Webster

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 Maurkice Pouncey manning the center of the line, it’s been one great torch passed on to another. But none compare with the Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who was part of the greatest draft in Steelers history if not in all of NFL lore. (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 the heart and soul of the dominating offensive line of the Steelers’ 1970s dynasty years and even carried the line on his shoulders during the declining beginning of the 1980s. Every Steelers player has “Webby” stories as he was truly one of a kind. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler and 5-time first-team All-Pro. Although the Steelers don’t really officially retire jerseys in the modern era (except for Joe Greene’s in 2019 and Franco Harris’ in 2022), it is well known that Webster’s number 52 is one of the untouchables.

Webster’s love of the game and his unrivaled commitment to beating his opponent (literally) took its toll. He suffered from severe post-career depression. It was believed to be medically connected with brain damage caused from many years of violent collisions following the snap of the ball.

Clark Haggans

The Steelers had the luxury of being one of the few teams that ran the 3-4 in the 1990s with most copycats focusing on the success of the 4-3 fronts during those years. This allowed the Steelers to sweep up 3-4 edge linebackers cheaply in the draft, and Clark Haggans was one of those late-round steals. While at Colorado State, Haggans played with another linebacker by the name of Joey Porter, who was drafted by the Steelers the year prior. Haggans had to bide his time with the team, playing mostly special teams in his first few years, but when he got his chance, he made the most of it. Haggans collected 33.5 sacks with the Steelers before being swept up by the Arizona Cardinals in free agency where he played most of the rest of his career.

Barry Foster

Barry Foster was a great fifth-round value for the Steelers. 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 as he ran the ball 390 times that season. That punishment allowed him to earn 1,690 yards, still the Steelers’ single-season rushing record. Unfortunately, the wheels did fall off rather early in Foster’s career. His departure due to injuries would soon open the door for the arrival of Jerome Bettis.

Hardy Nickerson

One of the best linebackers the Steelers ever drafted, he would have been higher on this list…except he was with the team for only a few years. Nickerson had a difficult time getting out of Coach Chuck Noll’s doghouse for a variety of reasons. Yet when given the chance he flashed great potential. However, it was after his move to Tampa Bay and the middle linebacker position of the 4-3 when he fully bloomed. There he was a 5-time Pro Bowler and 2-time first-team All-Pro and was voted to the 1990’s All-Decade Team.

Craig Wolfley

Known best to Steelers fans as the whimsical sidekick to Tunch Ilkin on their popular radio show of days past, Wolfley’s friendship with his fellow lineman began when both entered the same draft class in 1980. A dedicated weightlifter, Wolfley competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition in 1981 and he placed fifth. He moonlighted in sumo wrestling and boxing and even once lost to Butterbean in a bout. Wolfley never made a big major splash on the NFL field during his career, but he was one of the team’s most dependable players, and any time you can get a longtime starter out of the fifth round you are doing well. Wolfley’s broadcasting career with the Steelers has endeared him as a fan favorite.

Just Missed the Cut:

Steve Furness (1972) A perennial backup to the great linemen of the 1970’s Steel Curtain, Furness always performed well when called into action.

William Gay (2007) “Big Play” William Gay experienced perhaps the greatest shift in fan loyalty than any other Steeler in team history. He was practically booed out of the stadium in his earlier years, but turned things around, just in time to leave for free agency! Fortunately (unlike other woebegone Steelers) he repented and returned shortly thereafter and became one of the favorites on the defense.

Lethon Flowers (1995) The hard-hitting strong safety made his presence known to receivers, although his aggressiveness sometimes got him exposed in coverage.

Famous For the Wrong Reasons

Brent Jones (1986) One of the best fifth-round draft picks for the Steelers but he was released after camp! He ended up on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster where the pass catching tight end thrived by receiving Hall of Fame spirals from Joe Montana and Steve Young, which helped to make Jones a three-time All Pro. A player that made Steelers green with envy…and remorse.

Cliff Stoudt (1977) This quarterback holds the record as the most “booed” player in Pittsburgh Steelers history. Hey…who would want to follow an act like Terry Bradshaw anyway?

Tee Martin (2000) Tee Martin’s infamy is that he was drafted by the Steelers while Tom Brady was still on the board! The team seemed to be unwisely looking for the next Kordell Stewart when it made this pick, but Martin’s career was short and unremarkable. Brady? Well…

Previous Greatest Hits

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Eighth Round Greatest Selections
Seventh Round Greatest Selections

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