With the NFL Draft on the horizon, BTSC takes a look at the best of the Steelers’ Round Seven through Twelve picks since 1969.
The NFL Draft is coming up and the Steelers will, once again, rely building heavily through the draft instead of free agency. There are some rounds that the Steelers excel in. Of course, the first round the Steelers have brought in a plethora of Hall of Famers like Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson, Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu. Teams are expected to find their best talent at the top of the draft. But the other rounds are where it becomes tougher. BTSC will go back to 1969 (when the Chuck Noll era began) and rank the best late round picks in team lore. Rankings were aided somewhat by the Career Average Value stat from Pro Football Reference.
10) Frank Pollard – Baylor (Round 11 – 1980)
From 1979 to 1982, the Steelers cornered the market on running backs from Baylor University, including investing in two No. 1 picks from the Bears in the form of Greg Hawthorne (‘79) and Walter Abercrombie (‘82). The best of the bunch, though, was the team’s eleventh-round pick in 1980, Frank Pollard. The high school track star won a state track team championship in Texas as the only member of the 1976 team. Pollard was a very productive runner in Pittsburgh during the eighties. In nine seasons, No. 30 ran for 3,989 yards and 20 touchdowns, with his finest season being 1985 with 991 yards on the ground. He spent his entire career wearing black-and-gold, but part of it wearing No. 44 as well. Pollard retired after the 1988 season as the team’s third all-time leading rusher and now sits in sixth place.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Pollard in 1980: 1) Mark Malone – Arizona State, 2a) Bob Kohrs – Arizona State, 2b) John Goodman – Oklahoma, 3) Ray Sydnor – Wisconsin, 4) Bill Hurley – Syracuse, 5) Craig Wolfley – Syracuse, 6) Tunch Ilkin – Indiana State, 7) Nate Johnson – Hillsdale, 8) Ted Walton – Connecticut , 9) Ron McCall – Arkansas-Pine Bluff 10) Woodrow Wilson – North Carolina State, 10a) Ken Fritz – Ohio State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Pollard in 1980: Terry Greer – Los Angeles Rams (Alabama State)
Player drafted one spot behind Pollard in 1980: Charles Vaclavik – Pittsburgh Steelers (Texas)
9) Ernie Holmes – Texas Southern (Round 8 – 1971)
Ernie Holmes had two nicknames as a member of the famed Steel Curtain from 1971-1977, “Fats” and “Arrowhead”. To call Holmes merely a character would be an understatement. On the field, he was a vibrant wrecking ball who led the Steelers in sacks unofficially with 11 in 1974 and 10.5 in 1975. His 40 unofficial sacks would rank him eleventh all time in Steelers history. The man with an arrow-shaved haircut was an intimidating force that personified the Steel Curtain mystique. Dan Rooney once explained Holmes was one of the toughest players to ever wear Steelers uniform. Holmes’ off the field antics were troubling. After an emotional breakdown while driving on the Ohio Turnpike, Ernie was arrested for firing shots and a police helicopter as it pursued him. Holmes suffered with a diagnosis of acute paranoid psychosis which would plague him. After enduring ongoing weight problems, the Steelers traded homes to the Buccaneers in 1978, but he failed to make the Tampa team coming out of preseason and was released. He ended up with the Patriots, but retired after three games. After retirement, Holmes lived on a ranch and was an ordained minister. He also appeared in Wrestlemania 2 and in an episode of The A-Team. The two-time Super Bowl Champ and one-time All-Pro passed away at the age of 59 after dying in a one-car accident 80 miles from Houston.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Holmes in 1971: 1) Frank Lewis – Grambling, 2) Jack Ham – Penn State, 3) Steve Davis – Delaware State, 4a) Gerry Mullins – USC, 4b) Dwight White – East Texas State, 5a) Larry Brown – Kansas, 5b) Mel Holmes – North Carolina A&T, 5c) Ralph Anderson – West Texas A&M, 5d) Fred Brister – Mississippi, 6) Craig Hanneman – Oregon State, 7) Worthy McClure – Mississippi, 8a) Larry Crowe – Texas Southern 8b) Paul Rogers – Nebraska
Player drafted one spot ahead of Holmes in 1971: Tony Garay – Los Angeles Rams (Hofstra)
Player drafted one spot behind Holmes in 1971: Ken Lee – Detroit Lions (Washington)
8) Merril Hoge – Idaho State (Round 10 – 1987)
Hoge had one of the greatest playoff performances with 220 yards, two scores and 6.7 yards per carry over two games for the Cinderella story of 1989.In seven Steeler seasons, the Idaho State alum rushed for 3,115 yards and scored 34 times by ground and air. Perhaps Merril’s greatest contribution was his 220 yards and two TDs in the 1989 playoffs where the Steelers were major underdogs. Concussions cut Hoge’s career short, but he went on to a successful media career. In 2003, No. 33 was found to have stage II Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He penned a book about his cancer called “Find A Way” and became an inspirational speaker.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Hoge in 1987: 1) Rod Woodson – Purdue, 2) Delton Hall – Clemson, 3) Charles Lockett – Long Beach State, 4) Thomas Everett – Baylor University, 5) Hardy Nickerson (California), 6a) Tim Johnson – Penn State, 6b) Greg Lloyd – Fort Valley State, 7) Chris Kelley – Akron, 8) Charles Buchanan – Tennessee State, 9) Joey Clinkscales – Tennessee
Player drafted one spot ahead of Hoge in 1987: Paul Carberry – Philadelphia Eagles (Oregon State)
Player drafted one spot behind Hoge in 1987: Dale Jones – Dallas Cowboys (Tennessee)
7) Loren Toews – California (Round 8 – 1973)
Toews played eleven seasons in Pittsburgh and appeared in four Super Bowls. The Cal Bear played in 57 straight games until his retirement after the 1983 season.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Toews in 1973: 1) J.T. Thomas – Florida State, 2) Ken Phares – Mississippi State, 3) Roger Bernhardt – Kansas, 4) Gail Clark – Michigan State, 5a) Dave Reavis – Arkansas, 5b) Larry Clark – Northern Illinois, 6a) Ron Bell – Illinois State, 6b) Glenn Scolnik – Indiana, 7) Nate Dorsey – Mississippi Valley State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Toews in 1973: Bill Windauer – Baltimore Colts (Iowa)
Player drafted one spot behind Toews in 1973: Mike Hancock – Washington Redskins (Idaho State)
6) Darren Perry – Penn State (Round 8 – 1992)
Darren Perry was a late round pick in 1992 when the Steelers selected the All-American safety and second-leading interceptor in Penn State history in the eighth round. Perry impressed right away when his six interceptions as a rookie marked the first time in 37 years a rookie led the Steelers in picks. That first-year excellence earned Darren the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as Pittsburgh’s top rookie. The free safety was durable as well, starting 110 of a possible 112 games as a Steeler, missing only two in 1998 for a groin injury. No. 39 ended his career in Pittsburgh after seven solid seasons in 1998 as Pittsburgh’s seventh-best interceptor of all-time. Perry moved on to the Chargers and Ravens in 1999, but didn’t record any playing time. His last season as a player was 2000 with a one-year stint with New Orleans. Since then, Darren Perry has joined the coaching ranks, including winning two Super Bowl rings as a defensive backs coach with the Steelers (2003-2006) in 2005 and the Packers (2009-2017) in 2010.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Perry in 1992: 1) Leon Searcy – Miami (Fla.), 2) Levon Kirkland – Clemson, 3) Joel Steed – Colorado, 4) Charles Davenport – North Carolina State, 5) Alan Haller – Michigan State, 7a) Russ Campbell – Kansas State, 7b) Scottie Graham – Ohio State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Perry in 1992: Eric Blount – Phoenix Cardinals (North Carolina)
Player drafted one spot behind Perry in 1992: Scott Lockwood – New England Patriots (USC)
5) Brett Keisel (2002)
Most seventh-round selections aren’t expected to spend 13 seasons in the NFL, but a player known for his tackling prowess and a long, bushy beard did just that and became one of the most popular Steelers in recent history as well. Brett Keisel didn’t play right away in the Steel City, in fact he missed his entire second season due to a shoulder injury. “Da Beard” became a starter when Kimo von Oelhoffen left after the Super Bowl XL campaign and became a mainstay on the defensive line. Keisel was a team leader that brought grit and stability to the defense, tackling opposing players 409 times and recording 30 sacks in his career. Brett won rings in Super Bowl XL and XLIII and was finally selected to the Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl XLV season of 2010. Despite being released in 2013, Brett Keisel stayed in Pittsburgh and became a pillar of the community.
Steelers Players Drafted ahead of Keisel in 2002: 1) Kendall Simmons – Auburn, 2) Antwaan Randle El – Indiana, 3) Chris Hope – Florida State, 4) Larry Foote – Michigan, 5) Verron Haynes – Georgia, 6) Lee Mays – Texas-El Paso, 7) LaVar Glover – Cincinnati
Player drafted one spot ahead of Keisel in 2002: Leonard Henry – Miami Dolphins (East Carolina)
Player drafted one spot behind Keisel in 2002: Chris Massey – St. Louis Rams (Marshal)
4) John Jackson – Eastern Kentucky (Round 10 – 1988)
John Jackson served the first ten years of his career in Pittsburgh. Playing at left tackle, Jackson was a valuable bodyguard for Steel City quarterbacks. Jackson prevented turnovers by recovering five fumbles on offense in his career. He started against the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Jackson in 1988: 1) Aaron Jones – Eastern Kentucky, 2) Dermontti Dawson – Kentucky, 3) Chuck Lanza – Notre Dame, 5a) Darin Jordan – Northeastern, 5b) Jerry Reese – Kentucky, 6) Warren Williams – Miami (Fla.), 7) Marc Zeno – Tulane, 8a) Mark Nichols – Michigan State, 8b) Mike Hinnant – Temple, 9) Gordie Lockbaum – Holy Cross
Player drafted one spot ahead of Jackson in 1988: Kenny Gamble – Kansas City Chiefs (Colgate)
Player drafted one spot behind Jackson in 1988: Ellis Dilahunt – Cincinnati Bengals (East Carolina)
3) David Little – Florida (Round 7 – 1981)
In 12 years with the Steelers, David Little had 10 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 1990 season. Drafted to the Steelers in the seventh round in 1981, the Consensus All American and University of Florida Hall of Famer was the brother of an NFL Hall of Famer, Larry Little. David passed away at the young age of 46 when a cardiac flutter while lifting weights caused 250 pounds to drop on his chest, roll to his neck and suffocate him. The middle linebacker will be remembered as one of the most reliable and dominant defenders for the Steelers in the 80s.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Little in 1981: 1) Keith Gary – Oklahoma, 2) Anthony Washington – Fresno State, 3) Rick Donnalley – North Carolina, 4) Robbie Martin – Cal Poly, 5) Ricky Martin – New Mexico, 6) Brian Hinkle – Oregon
Player drafted one spot ahead of Little in 1981: Lee Spivey – Detroit Lions (SMU)
Player drafted one spot behind Little in 1981: Don Shaver – Minnesota Vikings (Kutztown, PA)
2) Mike Wagner – Western Illinois (Round 11 – 1971)
The two-time Pro Bowler is one of those guys that got lost in the shadows of all of the Hall of Famers from the fabled Steel Curtain defense, but Wagner tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions in 1973. When Wagner retired in 1981, he had compiled 36 interceptions and currently ranks sixth on the franchise’s all-time list.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Wagner in 1971: 1) Frank Lewis – Grambling, 2) Jack Ham – Penn State, 3) Steve Davis – Delaware State, 4) Gerry Mullins – USC, 4) Dwight White – East Texas State, 5) Larry Brown – Kansas, 5) Mel Holmes – North Carolina A&T, 5) Ralph Anderson – West Texas A&M, 5) Fred Brister – Mississippi, 6) Craig Hanneman – Oregon State, 7) Worthy McClure – Mississippi, 8) Larry Crowe – Texas Southern 8) Paul Rogers – Nebraska, 8) Ernie Holmes – Texas Southern, 9) Mike Anderson – LSU, 10) Jim O’Shea – Boston College
Player drafted one spot ahead of Wagner in 1971: Tony Garay – Los Angeles Rams (Hofstra)
Player drafted one spot behind Wagner in 1971: Ken Lee – Detroit Lions (Washington)
1) L.C. Greenwood – Arkansas- Pine Bluff (Round 10 – 1969)
The man with the golden shoes wore them to prevent mistaken identity. PA announcers would credit Joe Greene for some of Greenwood’s tackles, so to correct that, he would lift his legs in the air every time he made a play in order to get his proper due. The man known as “Hollywood Bags” is not in the Hall of Fame, but truly deserves to be. In 13 seasons with the Steelers, the 6’6” Greenwood was a dominant member of the Steel Curtain. He was named to six Pro Bowls and was honored twice as an All-Pro. His 73.5 sacks has him second on the Steeler career list, 4.5 of them came in one 1979 game against the Browns. L.C. is a member of the Steelers’ All-Time Team and the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team. He passed away at age 67
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Greenwood in 1969: 1) Joe Greene – North Texas, 2) Terry Hanratty – Notre Dame, 2) Warren Bankston – Tulane, 3) Jon Kolb – Oklahoma State, 4) Bob Campbell – Penn State, 7a) Chuck Beatty – North Texas, 7b) Chadwick Brown – Texas A&M Commerce, 8)Joe Cooper – Tennessee State, 9) John Sodaski – Villanova
Player drafted one spot ahead of Greenwood in 1969: Jeff Stanciel – Atlanta Falcons (Mississippi Valley)
Player drafted one behind Greenwood in 1969: Steve Howell – Cincinnati Bengals (Ohio State)
Notable No. Seven through Twelves:
Joe Gilliam – Tennessee State (Round 11 – 1972)
Charles Davis – TCU (Round 9 – 1974)
Mike Collier – Morgan State (Round 14 – 1975)
Rick Moser – Rhode Island (Round 8 – 1978)
Tyrone McGriff – Florida A&M (Round 12 – 1980)
Mike Mayock – Boston College (Round 10 – 1981)
Edmund Nelson – Auburn (Round 7 – 1982)
Rich Erenberg – Colgate (Round 9 – 1984)
Harry Newsome – Wake Forest (Round 8 – 1985)
Rodney Carter – Purdue (Round 7 – 1986)
D.J. Johnson – Kentucky (Round 7 – 1989)
Jerry Olsavsky – Pitt (Round – 1989)
Carlton Haselrig – Pitt-Johnstown (Round 12 -1989)
Karl Dunbar – LSU (Round 8 – 1990)
Gary Jones – Texas A&M (Round 9 – 1990)
Justin Strzelczyk – Maine (Round 11 – 1990)
Ariel Solomon – Colorado (Round 10 – 1991)
Jeff Zgonina – Purdue (Round 7 – 1993)
Carlos Emmons – Arkansas State (Round 7 – 1996)
Kris Brown – Nebraska (Round 7 – 1999)
A.Q. Shipley – Penn State (Round 7 – 2009)
David Johnson – Arkansas State (Round 7 – 2009)
Tyler Matakevich – Temple (Round 7 – 2016)
Carlos Davis – Nebraska (Round 7 – 2020)