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Pittsburgh Steelers: Best and worst draft picks


In the days leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, will allow users to determine the best and worst draft picks for every team. We continue the proceedings with the team that owns the No. 17 overall pick in this year's draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Top picks


Ben Roethlisberger -- 2004 (No. 11 overall)
The Steelers got lucky in the 2004 draft, but I've heard people say that's better than being good sometimes. The Giants and Chargers were too busy swooning over Philip Rivers and Eli Manning to notice the strapping kid from Miami of Ohio, who's since gone on to play in three Super Bowls and win despite playing behind one of the league's worst pass-protecting o-lines for the majority of his career.
» 2004 NFL Draft | Photos: Roethlisberger through the years


Franco Harris -- 1972 (No. 13 overall)
Even though he'd spent four seasons at Penn State playing second fiddle to RB Lydell Mitchell, Harris was the Steelers' first pick (and 13th overall) to serve as their feature back. Good choice. Harris won four Lombardis (including a then-Super Bowl record-setting performance of 158 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX), retired as the game's second-leading all-time rusher, and made the greatest play in NFL history.
» 1972 NFL Draft | Photos: Harris through the years


Hines Ward -- 1998 (No. 92 overall)
Before he danced his way into our hearts, Ward was a pigskin paradox: he was built like a punter but hit like a truck. Despite smiling before, during and after every play, he was one of the most reviled guys in the league. Born in South Korea, he became the face of the Steel City's iconic franchise for a generation (not to mention the Steelers' all-time leading receiver). Whether or not you agree, he's gonna wind up with a bust in Canton. Not too bad for a third-round pick.
» 1998 NFL Draft | Photos: Ward through the years


Mel Blount -- 1970 (No. 53 overall)
Long before the days of televised workouts and our national obsession with 40 times run in underpants, the late 1960s/early 1970s Steelers distanced themselves from the competition by repeatedly scoring in the draft with small-school products. All four original members of the legendary Steel Curtain (aka defense linemen "Mean" Joe Greene, Dwight White, "Fats" Holmes and L.C. Greenwood) came from humble collegiate beginnings at, respectively, North Texas, Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, while the secondary included South Carolina State's Donnie Shell, Western Illinois' Mike Wagner, Florida A&M's Glen Edwards ... and the rangy 6-foot-3 corner from Southern, Mel Blount, who literally redefined the way his position was played.
» 1970 NFL Draft | Photos: Blount through the years


The 1974 draft class -- Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Mike Webster (No. 21 overall, No. 46 overall, No. 82 overall, No. 125 overall)
By the spring of 1974, the Steelers had already picked up most of the key ingredients needed to be a contender. They then cornered the market with the single greatest draft class in NFL history, spending four of their first five picks* on future Hall of Famers Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. Six years later, Pittsburgh had four Lombardi Trophies. (*Trivia Time! Q: Of the Steelers' first five draft picks in 1974, who is the only player to not finish in the Hall of Fame? A: Jimmy Allen.)
» 1974 NFL Draft

Some other noteworthy picks (third round or later): Rocky Bleier, 10th round, 1969; Greg Lloyd, fifth round, 1987; Merril Hoge, 10th round, 1987; Ike Taylor, third round, 2003; Brett Keisel, seventh round, 2002; Antonio Brown, sixth round, 2010.

Worst picks


Huey Richardson -- 1991 (No. 15 overall)
The final first rounder of the Chaz Noll Era, Richardson 6-foot-3, 238-pound specimen is officially listed as having appeared in five games with three tackles. Total. He didn't make it to the first regular-season game of the Bill Cowher Era. By the way, I won't argue with anyone who thinks Tim Worley is getting off easy by dodging this list. By any measure, the Steelers wasted the seventh overall on "The Next Herschel Walker," but the lasting scar he left with hardcore Steelers fans is his third-quarter fumble in the 1989 divisional playoff game against John Elway in Denver, which probably cost the team an AFC title game in Cleveland. Then again, had the Steelers gotten to the Super Bowl that season, they would've gotten embarrassed by the 49ers ... so, in a way, Pittsburgh owes Worley a bit of thanks.
» 1991 NFL Draft


The 2008 draft class
Given the success of teams like the Steelers, Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants, the philosophy of building a team almost exclusively through the draft in the free-agency era makes sense ... with one caveat: you need to draft well. The Steelers must've forgotten that not-so-little detail in 2008, because just five years later not one of the guys they picked is still with the team. Limas Sweed and Bruce Davis were early round embarrassments, and architectural engineering expert/chronic fumbler Rashard Mendenhalldropped the Steelers' chances of a win in Super Bowl XLV against Green Bay on the first play of the fourth quarter.
» 2008 NFL Draft


Troy Edwards -- 1999 (No. 13 overall)
Remember the earlier mention about the Noll era Steelers' success with drafting small-college players? Well, since the end of the 1970s, the franchise has been a little less consistent in that department. For every Ike Taylor (Louisiana-Lafayette), there's a Ricardo Colclough (Tusculum College). For every Merril Hoge (Idaho State), there's a Jamain Stephens (North Carolina A&T). The franchise's dropoff in this regard is personified neatly by the Louisiana Tech pass-catching phenom Troy Edwards. Unlike the Steelers' previous first-round pick out the same school (a rifle-armed phenom named Terry Bradshaw), Edwards never lived up to the hype and was gone after just three seasons. On the bright side, Pittsburgh bounced back from their atrocious first two picks (safety Scott Shields was their second-round selection) by grabbing Joey Porter and Aaron Smith in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
» 1999 NFL Draft


Defensive linemen taken in the first round during the 1980s -- (Aaron Jones, 1988, Darryl Sims, 1985, Gabe Rivera, 1983, Keith Gary, 1981)
After building their dynasty around a group of A-list defensive linemen in the 1970s, the Steelers logically attempted to remake the following decade's team using the same strategy. Unfortunately, the casting left something to be desired, as Jones, Sims and Gary proved themselves unable to make it on the big stage, while Rivera suffered a career-ending injury after his rookie season.
» 1988 NFL Draft | 1985 NFL Draft | 1983 NFL Draft | 1981 NFL Draft


Mark Malone -- 1980 (No. 28 overall)
Steelers fans still lament the team's decision to not use their first pick in 1983 on Dan Marino, the local kid who was a Heisman candidate at Pitt. Whispers about Marino's off-the-field behavior might have spooked Noll and Co. on draft day, but the more practical obstacle was Malone, whom the Steelers had taken in the first round three years earlier. Along with Terry Bradshaw and longtime backup Cliff Stoudt, the team didn't feel there was a pressing need at QB. However, as anybody who saw Stout and Malone play in the ensuing years, the team was wrong -- very, very wrong -- and it was a mistake the team wouldn't fully overcome until Roethlisberger's arrival.
» 1980 NFL Draft

Some other not worthy picks: Walter Abercrombie, first round, 1982; John Rienstra, first round, 1986; Delton Hall, second round, 1987; Deon Figures, first round, 1993; Will Blackwell, second round, 1997; Jeremy Staat, second round, 1998; Alonzo Jackson, second round, 2003; Anthony Smith, third round, 2006; Kraig Urbik, third round, 2009.

Now, before we part, a couple odd Steelers draft history bits:

» Pittsburgh drafted the local kid Johnny Unitas in the ninth round of the 1955 draft. He never played for the Steelers. He did, however, play for a team in Baltimore that now plays in Indianapolis. The Steelers then took Len Dawson, another future Hall of Famer, in the first round of the 1957 draft. He barely played for the Steelers. He did, however, win a Super Bowl for the Kansas City Chiefs.

» In 1988, the Steelers drafted two guys from the University of Kentucky (Dermontti Dawson, Jerry Reese), two guys from Eastern Kentucky (Aaron Jones, John Jackson), two guys with the surname Dawson (Dermontti, Bobby), plus three guys from Holy Cross, Temple and Notre Dame.

Follow Dave Dameshek on Twitter @Dameshek

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