Steelers draft history at pick 20: The ugly truth

The 20th overall pick in the NFL Draft has been disastrous throughout Pittsburgh's history.

Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett
Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since their early exit from the NFL Playoffs, it was quickly determined that the Pittsburgh Steelers would hold the 20th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. As far as draft positioning goes, they could do much worse.

There aren't many benefits of getting knocked out of the playoffs in the Wild Card round, but salvaging draft position is one of them. Ultimately, Pittsburgh's only dropped two spots from where they would have been had they not made the playoffs at all.

One would assume that the 20th overall pick is a spot to land some foundational pieces for the roster. This hasn't been the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, their history when making the 20th overall selection in the NFL Draft is downright ugly. Here's the history of every Steelers player to be selected at pick 20 since the beginning of the franchise:

Steelers history of players selected at pick 20 in the NFL Draft:

  • Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh (2022)
  • Darryl Sims, DE, Wisconsin (1985)
  • Larry Krutko, FB, West Virginia (1958)
  • Chuck Ortmann, B, Michigan (1951, 2nd round)
  • Jerry Nuzum, HB, New Mexico State (1948, 2nd round)

Most Steelers fans today will have to do some digging to see how the players outside of Kenny Pickett turned out, but let's start with the first name on this list.

Pickett was a very controversial pick by the Steelers in the 2022 NFL Draft. After four seasons of unspectacular play that had him looking like a Day 3 selection, Pickett had a breakout performance in Year 5 at Pitt which put him on the first-round radar.

Because of their need at quarterback, the former GM Kevin Colbert was willing to look past major red flags like a one-year sample of quality play, historically small hands, pedestrian arm talent, and a player who turned 24 years old before his first NFL training camp in order to fill the shoes of Ben Roethlisberger.

In his first two seasons, Pickett posted just 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while recording the lowest touchdown percentage since the NFL merger. He was traded to the Eagles for a mid-round pick swap less than two full years in the league.

The rest of the names on this list didn't work out much better, Darryl sims played just two seasons in Pittsburgh and didn't record a single start in 32 games for the Steelers before joining the Cleveland Browns. The defensive end and former first-round pick in 1985 recorded just 3.0 sacks in his career and was a complete non-factor.

In 1958, former 20th overall pick, Larry Krutko dressed just 25 games for the Steelers. The fullback carried the ball 96 times for 331 yards (3.4 yards per carry) while punching in just four touchdowns. He never suited up for another meaningful professional game after just 3 seasons in the league.

Chuck Ortmann and Jerry Nuzman -- both former 20th overall picks in the second round -- had short and underwhelming NFL careers. Ortmann threw 3 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while dressing for just 15 games for the Steelers. Nuzman's career lasted four seasons, but the former HB averaged 2.7 yards per carry or less in his final two seasons and played just 45 games in professional football.

History is made to be broken. There's no guarantee that whoever Omar Khan and the Steelers take at pick 20 in the 2024 NFL Draft is going to turn out as bad as the players on this list. However, the ugly truth is that Pittsburgh's history of players taken with the 20th overall pick has been disastrous.

All stats and Steelers draft history via Pro Football Reference.