What is the Steelers most unheralded draft class of the modern era?
The Steelers have had exceptional draft classes during the modern era, but this class may be the most unheralded
With the 2021 NFL Draft on the horizon, I thought it would be interesting to look at what may be the Steelers most unheralded draft class of the modern era. I realize that anytime a question arises that involves a measure of something that is unscientific, the answer ultimately comes down to two things: Opinion and perspective. My perspective is one of a fan who has been watching the Steelers and, concurrently, watching football, since 1978.
As a Steelers fan of that era, I was privileged to have watched the Super Bowl teams of the 1970s. I think it goes without saying that prior to winning our first Super Bowl in 1974, the groundwork was laid through several drafts prior to the legendary 1974 draft in which the Steelers drafted four future Hall of Fame players.
Those drafts were executed pre-NFL Combine, meaning the Steelers had to rely on the evaluation of the scouting department to make our selections during the draft. Needless to say, we hit the ‘jackpot’ the aforementioned 1974 draft, but prior to that draft, we enjoyed success as well.
In the 1969 draft, the Steelers landed Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and Jon Kolb. The following year brought us Terry Bradshaw, Ron Shanklin, and Mel Blount. The following year brought us what I believe is the most unheralded Steelers draft class of the modern era.
The 1971 Steelers draft class was arguably as impactful as the legendary 1974 draft class
Without knowing anything about Steelers history, if I were to tell you that the 1974 draft class yielded us four future Hall of Famers, you may be left with the impression that the only exceptional draft class was the 1974 draft class. That would be an incorrect assumption.
Here are the players who the Steelers drafted in the 1971 NFL draft; the draft that probably has flown under the radar for some unknown reason: In the first round, we selected Frank Lewis, WR, who played with the Steelers for seven seasons and was a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams. In the second round, we selected Jack Ham, OLB, who played with us for twelve seasons, made eight Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro six times, was a four-time Super Bowl champ, and was named to the Hall of Fame All-1970s team.
In the fourth round, we selected Gerry Mullins, G, who played with us for nine seasons, played in 124 games, and was a four-time Super Bowl champ. With our second pick of the fourth-round, we selected Dwight White, DE, who played with us for ten seasons, was a member of the famed Steel Curtain, made two Pro Bowls, and was a four-time Super Bowl champ.
Moving on to the fifth round, we drafted Larry Brown, who started his career as a TE but was converted to offensive tackle for the bulk of his career. Brown played in 167 games over 14 seasons, made one Pro Bowl, and was a member of four Super Bowl-winning teams. Continuing on to the eighth round, we selected Ernie Holmes, DT, who played with us for six seasons and was a member of not only the famed Steel Curtain but was a two-time Super Bowl Champ.
Last but not certainly least is Mike Wagner, who was drafted in the eleventh round and played both SS and FS in his ten-year career. Wagner started 116 of the 119 games in which he played. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and a four-time Super Bowl champ. Not too shabby for an eleventh-round pick, eh?
So as you figured out, my opinion is that the 1971 Steelers draft class was arguably the most unheralded draft class of the modern era. What say you?