PITTSBURGH — Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s still raging, interest in the NFL draft maybe at an all-time high.
While all sporting events and sports-related activities are stalled, the draft will provide a much-needed diversion from the current situation. With that in mind, it’s a good time to reflect on the Steelers and their history with the draft.
The first player ever drafted by the Steelers was not a playwright, poet, or actor, but his name was William Shakespeare. He was the first-round pick of the Steelers during the NFL’s first draft in 1936.
Two years later, the Steelers used their first-round pick to select Byron “Whizzer” White, a halfback from the University of Colorado. White never made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he did serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1962 to 1993!
The Steelers were also ahead of the rest of the NFL in opening their draft focus to include historically black colleges.
In 1969 (Chuck Noll’s first year as head coach), the Steelers hired the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, Bill Nunn, as a scout.
Under Nunn, the process of scouting and drafting of players changed forever. Nunn was a pioneer who opened doors for a long list of players from historically black colleges.
Nunn scouted, and the Steelers drafted a number of players who would help turn around the franchise into the Super Bowl dynasty of the 1970s.
- LC Greenwood (1969: 10th Round, Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
- Mel Blount (1970: 3rd Round, Southern University)
- Dwight White (1971: 4th Round, East Texas State)
- John Stallworth (1974: 4th Round, Alabama A&M)
These men were all legendary draft picks of the Steelers. The best draft in team history was 1974, when four future Hall of Fame players were selected.
The Steelers drafted Lynn Swann in the first round, followed by Jack Lambert in the second, John Stallworth in the fourth, and Mike Webster in the fifth. As a footnote, another Hall of Fame player, Donnie Shell, was signed as a free agent shortly after the 1974 draft.
The Steelers have had remarkable success with their first-round picks, which included the following players:
- Joe Greene (1969)
- Terry Bradshaw (1970)
- Franco Harris (1972)
- Rod Woodson (1987)
- Alan Faneca (1998)
- Troy Polamalu (2003)
- Ben Roethlisberger (2004)
Other great players were drafted in lower rounds. Hines Ward was a third-round pick in 1998, while Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick in 2010.
But the Steelers draft day success hasn’t been limited to their picks. Jerome Bettis was selected in the first round by the Rams in 1993, but came to the Steelers in a trade during the 1996 draft.
This year, the Steelers don’t have a first round pick, so barring a trade they won’t make their first pick until day two of the draft. But sit back and enjoy, and expect the unexpected in the only sports-related event in the spring of 2020.
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