Steelers Draft: The Legend of Ronnie Shanklin


On Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be on the clock with the 56th overall selection in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. In the past two years they have made excellent selections with their number two picks, and will no doubt continue that trend.

In fact, the Steelers have been making great second round picks for quite a while. Here’s a question for you. Do you know who was selected in the second round of the 1970 draft? If not, we’ll have to go back forty five years to learn about a young wide receiver from North Texas University.

Selected after Terry Bradshaw and before Mel Blount, Ronnie Shanklin was drafted to a Pittsburgh Steelers squad that did not have much in terms of talent at when it came to wide receiver.

Coming off a dismal 1-13 season, the organization was looking for answers in a hurry. Shanklin was one of three receivers the Steelers drafted for the newest quarterback selected first overall from Louisiana Tech University.

Have you ever wondered who it was that caught the first scoring pass the Blonde Bomber threw in his NFL career? You guessed it. It would take him until week five of his rookie season to do so, but Bradshaw’s first touchdown throw was a 67 yard catch and run to Shanklin that would give the Steelers the lead, and eventual win against the Houston Oilers.

Shanklin’s time with the Steelers was a transitional period for them at quarterback. Head coach Chuck Noll weighed his options at signal caller many a time in the early ’70s. Aside from Bradshaw, Shanklin caught passes from Joe Gilliam and Terry Hanratty.

Despite the erratic changes at quarterback, Shanklin was still a productive receiver. He led the Steelers in receptions for his first four years in the league, and in the same amount of time, started in 66 of the 67 games he appeared in.

1973 would prove to be the most fruitful year of his six season career in the NFL. After a heartbreaking loss to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC championship game, the Steelers’ number one receiver would redouble his efforts to help ensure that Pittsburgh made it back to the post season the following year.

Shanklin would have 30 receptions for 711 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 23.7 yards per catch were the best in the NFL en route to what would be another winning season for the Steelers. He would be named team MVP by his peers and earn a roster spot in that year’s Pro Bowl, but a neck injury would keep him out of the event.

Despite Shanklin’s efforts, the Steelers would lose to the Los Angeles Raiders in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

The following year would be Shanklin’s last in a black and gold uniform. Even though he had just had a career best season a year earlier, it did not stop the Steelers from selecting their most famous wide receiver duo in the 1974 draft.

Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were brought in to replace both Shanklin and Frank Lewis, whom the Steelers used a first round draft pick on in 1971. Shanklin started all 12 games he played in that year, but his numbers took a devastating hit. He would record only 19 receptions for 324 yards and a single touchdown catch.

After years of defeat, Shanklin would finally see his team reach the Big Stage in Super Bowl IX against the Minnesota Vikings. Both he and Lewis started in the contest, but were pulled after the first quarter in favor of the team’s budding rookies.

After their first championship victory, it was all but clear that the Steelers were sticking with the two future Hall of Famers, which left Shanklin the odd man out. He would be traded to the Chicago Bears for a second round draft pick that would be used on Ray Pinney, an offensive lineman that played seven seasons in two different stints in Pittsburgh.

Shanklin would not find much success with his new team. A knee injury would more or less sideline him for the remainder of his NFL career. He would find a passion for coaching while his injury kept him off the field, which he did after retiring from the game.

He would return to North Texas as an assistant coach for four years, and was also involved in recruiting for the school. He was even a color analyst for the college’s football team.

After a 2 1/2 year battle with colon cancer, Ronnie Shanklin passed away at the age of 55 in April of 2003.

How would have his career went if he would have stayed with the Steelers? It’s very possible that we could have a bust in Canton, Ohio, of Ronnie. The spontaneous nature of the NFL has a way of making, and breaking, even the most promising careers.

Shanklin currently sits at sixteenth on the Steelers’ list of all-time receivers.

Forever immortalized or not, Shanklin is a champion. We can only hope the Steelers draft a talented player such as he when they are on the clock later this week.

Next: Steelers Draft: First Round Trade Partners

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