Steelers Throwback Thursdays: Pittsburgh’s top 5 draft classes of all-time

Before the NFL officially gears up for the 2022-23 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”.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen some legendary players join their franchise throughout its history. They’ve also benefitted from some exceptional selections in the NFL Draft. And, while not every star that has stood on the field in the black and gold was a draft pick, several who were ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

With the 2022 NFL Draft coming up, as you keep your eyes peeled on the NFL Draft betting odds for the 2022 class, we thought it’d be fun to go back and look at the Top 5 Steelers draft classes in franchise history.

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No. 5 – The 1972 class

The Pittsburgh Steelers hit paydirt during the 1972 NFL Draft when they selected four players who would combine for 11 Super Bowl Championships. In the first round, the Steelers selected Franco Harris who would go on to be named the 1972 Offensive Rookie of the Year, attend the Pro Bowl nine times, be named the Super Bowl MVP, be selected as an All-Pro, earn the 1976 Walter Payton Man of the Year honor, and become a four-time Super Bowl Champion.

Harris is arguably one of the top selections the Steelers have ever made in the first round of the NFL Draft and his career earned him a gold jacket in Canton (Ohio) and a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Steelers also selected Gordon Gravelle (2nd Round, 2x Super Bowl Champion), John McMakin (3rd Round, 1x Super Bowl Champion), and Steve Furness (5th Round, 4x Super Bowl Champion) that year.

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No. 4 – The 1970 class

There will be some dispute among longtime Steelers fans as to who was more pivotal in this draft class for the Steelers; Mel Blount (third round) or Terry Bradshaw (first round). Both men were All-Pros who went to multiple Pro Bowls, were 4x Super Bowl Champions, and are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the blonde bomber that was Bradshaw gets a strong nod due to also being an NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl MVP, he never had an NFL rule changed due to his play like Blount did.

There is some dispute as to whether the hard-hitting, 6-foot-3 cornerback that Blount actually did have the rule changed in his name, though. Before 1978, defensive backs had little-to-no restraint placed on them by officials in how they handled, or man-handled, receivers. Considering that fact, receivers were seen in a whole different light considering they could get laid out on the turf play after play and many still caught an enormous number of passes.

The rule change in 1978, referred to widely as “the Mel Blount rule,” limited the ability of defenders to hit receivers once the receiver had passed beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage.

In the second round, the Steelers selected Ron Shanklin. Shanklin played five seasons and went to one Pro Bowl while also winning one Super Bowl with Pittsburgh.

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No. 3 – The 1971 class

From the 1971 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed eight players who all won Super Bowls for them. The only player to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was second-rounder and six-time All-Pro linebacker, Jack Ham.

In the first round, the Steelers grabbed Frank Lewis and then went with Steve Davis in the third. Pittsburgh had a pair of picks in the fourth round and chose Gerry Mullins and Dwight White. Larry Brown (fifth round) and Mike Wagner (11th round) completed the class.

Among all the players selected in this class, Wagner (2x), Brown (1x), White (2x), and Ham (8x) all were Pro Bowl players as well. Lewis (2x), Davis (1x), White (2x), and Holmes (2x) were the only players to not earn all four of the four Super Bowl wins the Steelers earned in a very short span.

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No. 2 – The 1969 class

In the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Joe Greene.

Greene would put up awards and stack accolades throughout his career. He became the Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 1972 AP Defensive Player of the Year, 1974 AP Defensive Player of the Year, 1979 Walter Payton Man of the Year.

Greene was a ten-time Pro Bowl player, a four-time All-Pro, a four-time Super Bowl Champ, and is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In the second and third rounds, the Steelers selected Terry Hanratty and Jon Kolb. In the tenth round, Pittsburgh grabbed L.C. Greenwood (6x Pro Bowl, 2x All-Pro) to add to their Steel Curtain defense and earn those four Super Bowl wins.

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No. 1 – The 1974 class

The Pittsburgh Steelers arguably out-drafted every other team in the NFL in 1974 when they selected four players who would all end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 1974 class is not only the No. 1 class for the Steelers but arguably the best draft class, ever, for any NFL franchise.

First-rounder Lynn Swann and fourth-rounder John Stallworth will likely be bound for football eternity. The dynamic receiving duo has long been seen as two of the most productive pairings at that position in the history of the NFL.

Swann was named Super Bowl MVP and 1981 Walter Payton Man of the Year, but Stallworth – a Cinderella story of an athlete – kept pace on the field even if it wasn’t always him in the main spotlight.

In the second round, the Steelers selected Jack Lambert, a fierce defender who was known to be brutally effective at bringing down opponents (and has been rumored to have bitten a few of them). Lambert was a 6x All-Pro, 9x Pro Bowl, 1974 and 1976 AP Defensive Player of the Year, and four-time Super Bowl champ.

In the fifth round, the Steelers picked Mike Webster. Webster would become a beloved figure in Pittsburgh while earning 5x All-Pro status, playing in nine Pro Bowls, and being a four-time Super Bowl champ.

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