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Print

Rounds 8 and Later yielded top talent

Posted Apr 23, 2014

In this series, the top picks in Steelers history are listed and debated on a round-by-round basis

Another in a series examining the best of 81 seasons worth of Steelers’ draft picks, designated by round. Today’s installment looks at the history of Rounds 8 & later:

1947 – ELBIE NICKEL (Round 15): Based on how the positions are designated today, Nickel would be a tight end, and he was the first at that position for the Steelers to be a prolific receiver. During his 11 seasons, a time when the NFL was primarily a run-the-football league, Nickel caught 329 passes. He still ranks sixth in franchise history in that category.

1949 – JIM FINKS (Round 12): Long before he became a top-flight front-office executive, Finks was the first T-formation quarterback to play with distinction for the Steelers. In 1952, Finks led the NFL with 20 touchdown passes; in 1955 he led the league in attempts (344), completions (165), and yards (2,270).

1950 – FRAN ROGEL (Round 8): Hey, diddle, diddle, Rogel up the middle. That’s the way the Steelers always started a game during his career, and in the six seasons from 1951-56, Rogel led the team in rushing five times. He finished with 3,271 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.

1962 – GARY BALLMAN (Round 8): After the Steelers made the mistake of trading Buddy Dial, who had posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 1961 and 1963, Ballman took over the team lead in that department. Ballman caught 47 passes for 935 yards (19.9 average) in 1964, and 40 passes for 859 yards (21.5) in 1965. The quarterbacks in those seasons were Ed Brown and Bill Nelsen, respectively.

1963 – ANDY RUSSELL (Round 16): His 12 seasons were spread among a two-year stint in the Army and the most dramatic coaching change in franchise history. Russell was consistently good enough in all elements of linebacker play to be voted first-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro five other times. Teamed with Jack Ham and Jack Lambert to form one of the best 4-3 linebackers units in NFL history. Two Super Bowl rings.

1969 – L.C. GREENWOOD (Round 10): In 1971, his first year as a starter, Greenwood had five fumble recoveries. He led the Steelers in sacks for the first time in 1973 with 8.5 and followed that with a career-high 11 in 1974, both of which were 14-game seasons. In Super Bowl IX, Greenwood batted two of Fran Tarkenton’s passes, one of which was intercepted by Greene, and in Super Bowl X he sacked Roger Staubach four times. When his Steelers career ended before the start of the 1982 season, he was the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 73.5. He was voted to six Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro twice. Four Super Bowl rings.

1971 – ERNIE HOLMES (Round 8): There was a time during the mid-1970s when Ernie Holmes was the best defensive lineman the Steelers had, and the group at the time included Joe Greene, Dwight White, L.C. Greenwood, and Steve Furness. In both the 1974 and 1975 seasons, both of which ended with Super Bowl championships, Holmes led the team with 11.5 and 8.5 sacks, respectively, and those seasons were 14 games long. Two Super Bowl rings.

1971 – MIKE WAGNER (Round 11): How about a draft where you get Ernie Holmes in the eighth round and a free safety who started 116 games over 10 seasons, who finished his career with 48 takeaways – 36 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries – while being voted to the Pro Bowl twice? Forty-eight takeaways over 110 games works out to about six takeaways per 16-game regular season. Four Super Bowl rings.

1980 – FRANK POLLARD (Round 11): Chuck Noll rarely acknowledged players reaching individual milestones, but in 1985 he did admit one of his specific disappointments was not getting Pollard the yards he needed in the final game of a 7-9 season to reach 1,000. Such was the respect Noll had for Pollard, who finished with 991 yards rushing that season, and 3,989 over a nine-year career with the team.

In the accompanying video, Bob Labriola and Mike Prisuta each make a case for their top player from this particular group. Labriola picks Russell, while Prisuta gives the nod to Greenwood.

NEXT: Round 7

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