In this retrospective series, we’ll use 20/20 hindsight to play General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers to review past drafts – focusing primarily on top 2-3 selections – and personnel decisions year-by-year and redraft or implement trades based on the Steelers roster at the time.
General rule: Any “redrafted” pick will generally fall within a 15-pick range and trade propositions being realistic and attainable.
Pittsburgh Steelers situation and needs:
- The Steelers started 1983 off with a 9-2 with Cliff Stoudt in place of Terry Bradshaw, but limped to a 10-6 finish.
- The QB play was so abysmal that the Steelers made their only trade of the decade giving up a pick in the top 3 rounds to acquire David Woodley from the Miami Dolphins.
- Former #1 draft pick in 1979, RB Greg Hawthorne, asks for a trade when being shifted to WR.
- Terry Bradshaw would play 2 drives of one game vs. the New York Jets. He threw 2 TDs on those to drives, including on the final pass of his career. The 14-0 spot he gave them was good enough to defeat the “New York Sack Exchange” and clinch the AFC Central Title. His elbow popped as he threw it and would retire after the season.
- Franco Harris had the final 1,000-yard season of his career, but only had a season long of 19 yards. He left the Steelers after the season amid a contract dispute (a decision Dan Rooney regretted.)
- Mel Blount retired after the season, further weakening the CB position.
- The Steelers were routed out of the playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Raiders, 38-10.
The Year of Two Drafts
- Because of the USFL signing players, the NFL had 2 separate drafts – one normal and one for USFL signed talent – providing an excellent opportunity to acquire rights to great talent.
1984 Steelers Draft: 1st Round – #23 Overall; 2nd Round – #52 Overall (USFL/CFL draft – #23 Overall)
In arguably the best draft the Pittsburgh Steelers would have since 1974 (not saying much), as they landed NFL Rookie of the Year Louis Lipps at WR and formed an incredible duo with NFL Comeback Player of the Year John Stallworth as they combined for 22 TDs, 125 receptions and a Steelers record combined 2,255 yards. As a rookie Lipps tied the 11 TD franchise record of Franco Harris and his All-Pro season in 1985 saw him set a franchise record of 15 TDs that lasted for 21 years until Willie Parker broke it in 2006. Lipps was held back by injuries and anemic QB play after that, though he would be the Steelers best WR throughout the rest of the decade — though it didn’t take long for him to make a major impact with an 80-yard TD in his first game:
Louis Lipps: “Steelers Takeaways” – Ron Lippick
“Bill Nunn called – he called me a few times. He asked if I was excited to play for the Steelers and that if I was still there at their pick they would probably take me. He was rambling a bit and my agent got frustrated that he was tying up the line. About fifteen minutes later Bill called again and my agent got fed up and told Bill not to call again unless I was picked – there’s no switchboard at the pizza joint! Well, the next time, around noon, Bill called again and I could see on the screen the paper being passed up for my pick.”
TE Chris Kolodziejski was another 2nd round bust (with one huge catch on the year) and was out of football by 1985. The Steeler could not find a quality TE through the 1980s, relying on a once the promising rookie in Bennie Cunningham who never lived up to his potential.
With their top pick in the USFL/CFL draft the Steelers selected Duane Gunn, who would never play a down of pro football. The Steelers obviously did not consider pursuing USFL players and it would prove to be a mistake.
- When you draft the offensive Rookie of the Year, you’re doing pretty good – unfortunately Lipps would be plagued by injuries most of his career after 1985.
- The challenge on this draft was the USFL impact of depleting the draft pool.
- The Steelers did find production in RB Rich Erenburg, G Terry Long. TE Darrell Nelson and WR Weegie Thompson that helped them win their final AFC Central Championship in the 1980s and reach the AFC Championship.
- However, where some teams were aggressive towards securing USFL players and it paid off, the Steelers were extremely passive and it would come back to bite them later.
This is the first go through the Steelers do not touch the 1st round – though an argument can be made to look at QB Boomer Esiason in the 2nd round.
Perhaps the Steelers draft DT Eric Williams in round 2, who was by no means a star, but a solid up-front DT. Considering the best player after round 1 was Earnest Byner (who went in round 10) the Steelers should have dealt picks with an eye on the future in either the USFL draft or 1985 as it was obviously depleted.
The lack of lasting player output was impacted by the USFL/CFL Draft and the supplementary draft held after these players were signed to contracts and QB Steve Young went #1 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, 3 of the top 4 picks in the USFL draft made the Hall of Fame, while the closest Pittsburgh got was Mike Rozier to the Pittsburgh Maulers.
Thoughts or opinions? Leave a comment below.