Earlier this week, we looked at some of the NFL draft busts that the Steelers have had over the past few years. Now, it’s time to look at some of the better picks they’ve made. These aren’t picks like Ben Roethlisberger or Mean Joe Greene. Those guys were picked high and delivered. No, these are afterthoughts, picked in the later rounds. Coming into the NFL with chips on their shoulders, they became starters the Steelers could depend on and went about establishing themselves in the NFL. Here are some of the hidden gems the Steelers have plucked from the NFL draft:
10. Brett Keisel (2002, No. 242, Brigham Young) A standout defensive end for the Steelers, Keisel became a regular starter in 2006. He played on two Super Bowl-winning teams, and was named a Pro Bowler in 2010. Presently, Keisel is a free agent, and even if he decides on retirement, the defensive lineman known for his wild beard has had a solid NFL career, even after being picked in the seventh round.
9. Ernie Holmes (1971, No. 203, Texas Southern) Picked late in the 1971 draft, Holmes, nicknamed “Fats,” became a key member of the Steelers’ legendary Steel Curtain defense as a feared defensive tackle with a knack for sacks. Holmes played six seasons with the Steelers, and was on the team that won Super Bowls IX and X. The Steelers dealt him to the Buccaneers in 1978, and he retired soon after.
8. Antonio Brown (2010, No. 195, Central Michigan) Scooped up by the Steelers in the sixth round, the speedy and reliable Brown has solidified himself as a No. 1 receiver and dangerous kick returner in the NFL. In 2013, he put up big numbers, hauling in 110 catches for almost 1,500 yards. A two-time Pro Bowler and a member of the Super Bowl XLV team, Brown looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
7. Darren Perry (1992, No. 203, Penn State) After a solid career in State College, the Steelers grabbed this safety late in the 1992 draft. Perry was strong out of the gate, picking off six passes in his rookie season. With Rod Woodson, he solidified the defense, and helped to lead the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX. He finished with the Saints, and retired after the 2000 season. He’s now an assistant coach with the Packers.
6. Andy Russell (1963, No. 220, Missouri) A tough LB, Russell played his entire 12-year career with the Steelers. Russell lead the team into the glorious 1970s, and he was a member of two teams that won Super Bowls. He also had his fair share of Pro Bowls, collecting seven over his career. He briefly left the team to fulfill an Army ROTC commitment, and he was stationed in Germany for two years.
5. Mike Wagner (1971, No. 268, Western Illinois) A late-round draft pick, Wagner was originally looked at as a receiver, but he was switched to safety with the Steelers. The move worked out pretty well, as Wagner recorded 36 interceptions over a career that included two trips to the Pro Bowl and a key spot on a team that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. Wagner retired in 1981 after a decade with the Steelers.
4. Greg Lloyd (1987, No. 110, Fort Valley State) One of the most-feared linebackers to ever play for the Steelers, Lloyd came to the team in the sixth round of the 1987 draft. Lloyd made his name as a pass rusher, and he recorded 54.5 sacks over a steady career that also included five Pro Bowls. He also played for the team that made it to Super Bowl XXX. Lloyd retired from the NFL after the 1998 season.
3. Mike Webster (1974, No. 125, Wisconsin) A fifth-round pick in 1974, Webster learned the game for two seasons under Ray Mansfield, before stepping into the starting lineup in 1976. He would go on to become arguably the greatest center in NFL history. Webster made the Pro Bowl nine times, and he was a member of a team that won four Super Bowls. He retired from the NFL after the 1990 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
2. L.C. Greenwood (1969, No. 238, Arkansas-Pine Bluff) The Steelers got a steal in the 10th round of the 1969 draft, taking Greenwood, a tall defensive end. Known for his gold-colored shoes, Greenwood was a big part of the team’s Steel Curtain defense. He was named to the Pro Bowl six times and won four Super Bowls with the Steelers. He recorded 73.5 sacks over a solid NFL career, before retiring in 1982.
1. Rocky Bleier (1968, No. 417, Notre Dame) A member of a Steelers team that won four Super Bowls, Bleier had to battle back from a bad war injury — sustained in Vietnam, where he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star — to become a remarkable success story. Bleier was a running threat for the Steelers, but he made his name as a punishing blocker for Franco Harris. He retired from the NFL in 1980.
Honorable mentions: Carlton Haselrig (1989, No. 312, Pitt-Johnstown), Willie Williams (1993, No. 162, Western Carolina), John Jackson (1988, No. 252, Eastern Kentucky), Dick Hoak (1961, No. 90, Penn State), Dwayne Woodruff (1979, No. 161, Louisville), Frank Pollard (1980, No. 305, Baylor), Orpheus Roye (1996, No. 200, Florida State), Carlos Emmons (1996, No. 242, Arkansas State), Barry Foster (1990, No. 128, Arkansas), Clark Haggans (2000, No. 137, Colorado State), Lee Flowers (1995, No. 151, Georgia Tech), Myron Bell (1994, No. 140, Michigan State), Merril Hoge (1987, No. 261, Idaho State), Tunch Ilkin (1980, No. 165, Indiana State).