The last 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 Round 1:
1938 – BYRON “WHIZZER” WHITE: Convinced to delay his Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford by the then-outrageous sum of $10,000 to play professional football, White, a single-wing tailback, led the NFL in rushing attempts (152), yards (567), and yards from scrimmage (655), but the Steelers finished 2-9. White’s true impact came as the 12th-longest serving justice in U.S. Supreme Court history. Appointed to the court by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, White retired in 1993. “Of all the athletes I have known in my lifetime, I’d have to say Whizzer White came as close to anyone to giving 100 percent of himself when he was in competition,” said Rooney.
1957 – LEN DAWSON: Back in this era, the Steelers did a better job of drafting than developing. In 1955, they had cut a quarterback they picked on the ninth-round named John Unitas; and in 1957, they would draft Dawson but cut him after three years and only 17 pass attempts. Unitas was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. Dawson was inducted in 1987.
1969 – JOE GREENE: The greatest player in franchise history. The most significant player in franchise history. The only player deserving to be on the Steelers’ Mount Rushmore, along with Art Rooney Sr., Dan Rooney, and Chuck Noll. Greene was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, a two-time winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award (1972 and 1974), and a five-time first-team All-Pro. Hall of Fame, Class of 1987. Four Super Bowl rings.
1970 – TERRY BRADSHAW: If you’re a guy who likes his quarterback to come up big in critical games, Bradshaw is your guy. He was 14-5 as a starter in the playoffs, 4-0 in the Super Bowl. His postseason passer rating was 83.0, and his 8.41 yards/attempt is the highest in NFL history among quarterbacks who have a comparable number of playoff starts. Bradshaw wouldn’t help you win your fantasy league, but he forced you to build a bigger trophy case. Hall of Fame, Class of 1989. Four Super Bowl rings.
1974 – LYNN SWANN: Quality over quantity might be the simplest way to characterize Swann’s career. His 907 receiving yards in 16 playoff games is more than he ever amassed over a whole regular season, and he also averaged 18.9 yards per catch in the postseason to go along with nine touchdowns. In 1975, Swann led the NFL with 11 touchdown receptions on only 49 catches, and then he capped that season by being voted the MVP of Super Bowl X. Hall of Fame, Class of 2001. Four Super Bowl rings.
1984 – LOUIS LIPPS: A playmaking receiver not lucky enough to play with either Terry Bradshaw or
1987 – ROD WOODSON: In terms of cornerbacks who weren’t afraid to make a tackle, Woodson was the best of his era. In 10 seasons with the Steelers, Woodson was named first-team All-Pro five times and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1993. Woodson finished his career here with 13.5 sacks, 38 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, and 21 fumble recoveries. He scored six defensive touchdowns, and added another four on returns. Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.
1998 – ALAN FANECA: The best guard in franchise history, Faneca started 153 of the 158 games he played in a Steelers uniform. During his career here, Faneca was voted to seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro six times. One Super Bowl ring.
2001 – CASEY HAMPTON: An underrated leader on Steelers teams that played in three Super Bowls and won two, Hampton was voted to five Pro Bowls. During his 13 seasons, the Steelers run defense was ranked among the NFL’s top three 10 times, and it was No. 1 four of those times. Two Super Bowl rings.
2003 – TROY POLAMALU: The Steelers’ secondary’s top playmaker during his era, Polamalu has started 130 regular season games, and he has 12 sacks, 32 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, and six fumble recoveries. He has scored five defensive touchdowns. In the playoffs, Polamalu has three interceptions and one touchdown. He was the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and he has been named first-team All-Pro four times. Two Super Bowl rings.
2004 – BEN ROETHLISBERGER: His 13-0 record as a rookie stamped him as a winner, and Roethlisberger today is one of only 11 quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls as a starting quarterback. His playoff record is 10-4, 2-1 in Super Bowls, and Roethlisberger has completed 60.6 of his postseason passes, with 20 touchdowns and a rating of 83.7. Still writing his history. Two Super Bowl rings.
2005 – HEATH MILLER: The best tight end in franchise history, Miller has handled all facets of his position like few others in the NFL throughout his first nine seasons. Miller has started 136 of his 137 career games, and he has contributed 5,273 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns. In 12 postseason games, Miller has 40 catches and four touchdowns. Voted to the Pro Bowl twice. Two Super Bowl rings.
In the accompanying video, Bob Labriola and Mike Prisuta each highlight the career of one of these first-round draft picks. Both of them agree that Joe Greene is the greatest player, and therefore the greatest No. 1 pick, in Steelers history.