Steelers Throwback Thursdays: 5 players who COULD have been Steelers
Before the NFL officially gears up for the 2021-22 season, Steel City Underground will be taking fans back in time to feature events, special moments, and historical times in the world of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation. Join us as we revisit these moments in our “Throwback Thursdays”.
Recently, I wrote about 5 players who should have been Steelers. I figured, why not follow up with another frustrating-but-interesting offseason exercise: players we all thought could’ve been Steelers but were drafted by other teams.
The idea is to look at some players who could’ve been great in the Black and Gold, and who many, had linked to the Steelers during the draft process.
I tried to stick with more recent years, but of course no list like this would be complete without mentioning the first one… enjoy!
There was a ton of smoke around this fire back in 2019, when the Steelers were sniffing around the University of Michigan and took this edge rusher on a dinner interview.
However, it never came to be, as Pittsburgh instead was focused on WInovich’s college teammate, Devin Bush, whom the Steelers would move up to pick tenth overall.
Winovich would drop into the third round, eventually being picked by the New England Patriots after the Steelers passed on him several other times. He has eleven sacks in two seasons with New England.
This one still sticks in the craw of many here at SCU who not only mocked tight ends to the Steelers as a need, but saw the value of drafting Kittle potentially earlier than his fifth-round (146th overall) selection in 2017.
Neither had spectacular stays in Pittsburgh, while Kittle would go on to explode with the San Francisco 49ers, breaking Travis Kelce‘s single-season receiving yards record for a tight end in his second season as a pro, and twice exceeding 1,000 yards receiving.
3. William Jackson III
The pick is in, but came one pick too early for Pittsburgh, as their rumored (and preferred) cornerback headed to the Cincinnati Bengals instead.
The Steelers have been pegged to making a panic pick instead, selecting CB Artie Burns with the very next overall pick in the first round – with Burns falling out of favor before his four-year contract was up in Pittsburgh and never panning out.
Jackson left the Bengals this offseason with some choice words about the organization as well. Some assumed the Steelers may have had interest in finally making WJ3 one of their own, but a lack of salary cap room made it nearly impossible to negotiate with any higher profile free agents this offseason.
Jackson signed a three-year, $40.5 million deal with the Washington Football Team in March, making him one of the highest-paid corners in the league.
2. J.K. Dobbins
Realizing that James Conner may not be retained beyond 2020, Dobbins was another draft darling of many, including myself and others here at SCU.
We felt he could be acquired in the second round of the draft – where Pittsburgh didn’t have a first round pick after using it in a trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick a year earlier.
Instead of taking a running back, the Steelers instead opted to draft Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool with their second-round selection, as insurance against Conner’s teammate and draft class companion JuJu Smith-Schuster potentially leaving after his contract expired beyond 2020 too.
Dobbins would instead go to the Ravens six picks later, where he would split time as a rookie at first but accumulate 805 yards and 9 touchdowns in his first year as a pro.
1. Dan Marino
You cannot discuss the NFL Draft and potential “would be” Steelers without mentioning one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time… that the Steelers passed on!
Yes, we’re going all the way back to 1983, but this pick stung the Steelers so hard that it is still felt by fans today. Passing on Marino ended up being a double-whammy for the Steelers, as he was a hometown guy through-and-through, having played his high school ball at Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic and his college days with the University of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers had a shot to take Marino at pick 21, but ostensibly passed on him. Instead, the future Hall of Fame quarterback, the sixth such passer to be taken in the ’83 draft, would be taken 27th overall by the Miami Dolphins.
The other side to the story is that the Steelers own Hall of Fame QB, Terry Bradshaw, would play his final season –a single game at that – in 1983. Pittsburgh would manage to make the AFC Championship game in 1984 behind the arm of Mark Malone, but would fall in that game to Marino’s Dolphins 45-28.
While Dan Marino would never hoist a Lombardi trophy during his career, it is believed he would’ve bridged the gap of the “dark days” in Pittsburgh which followed the 1984 season. The Steelers would succumb to four-straight losing seasons before making the playoffs again in 1989 under Chuck Noll.
Noll would have two more seasons where he’d miss out on the postseason before handing the torch to Bill Cowher – who would lose four of his six AFC Championship game appearances, which many critics blamed on Cowher’s lack of having a franchise quarterback… something Marino could’ve been during his career spanning from 1983 to 1999.