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Steelers Greatest Draft Hits – Fifth Round


By Michael K. Reynolds

The Pittsburgh Steelers have two fifth round selections in this year’s 2014 NFL Draft (including an extra compensatory pick). Should you be excited?

Not if you are a student of the Steelers draft history. Not since the year 2000 have the scouts pulled a golden rabbit out of the hat in the fifth round. Somewhat surprisingly, players chosen by the Steelers at this level are fortunate to last on the roster and in most cases only provide team depth.

See if you recall these Steelers fifth rounders of the last decade: Joe Burnett, Cameron Stephenson, Omar Jacobs, Charles Davis and Nathaniel Adibi?

No?

Well…here are a few players who should be a bit more familiar: Terry Hawthorne, Chris Rainey, Chris Carter, Crezdon Butler, Chris Scott & Stevenson Sylvester.

Yes. That’s typically the type of fifth round talent the Steelers war room musters during their annual lottery.

Perhaps they need to turn the radio off in the draft room. Did you know they selected players by the name of George Jones in 1997 (famous Country-Western legend) and Ricky Martin in 1981 (the Menudo sensation)?

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t hit a home run here and there in the fifth round. In fact, they managed to select one of the team’s most famous Hall of Famers during this round.

So let’s get started with your greatest hits.

Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | Fifth Round

RANK NAME POSITION YEAR DRAFTED COLLEGE
1 Mike Webster C 1974 Wisconsin
2 Barry Foster RB 1990 Arkansas
3 Clark Haggans LB 2000 Colorado St.
4 Hardy Nickerson LB 1987 California
5 Craig Wolfley LB 1980 Syracuse

Mike Webster

If there is another position other than linebackers that the Steelers are famous for it would have to be center. With elite players like Ray Mansfield, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings and now Maurkice Pouncey manning the center of the line, it’s been one great torch passed on to another. But there is none to compare with the Hall of Fame center Mike Webster who was part of the greatest draft in Steelers history if not in NFL history. (Hall of Famers Lynn Swann (1), Jack Lambert (2) and John Stallworth (4) were also selected in 1974). Nicknamed “Iron Mike” and called “Webby” by his fellow teammates Webster was hugely talented. But it was his work ethic and strength of character that made him one of the greatest centers in NFL history. He was the heart and soul of the dominating offensive line of the Steelers 1970’s dynasty years and even carried the line on his shoulders during the declining beginning of the 1980’s. Every Steelers player has “Webby” stories as he was truly one of a kind. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler and 5-time First Team All Pro. Although the Steelers don’t officially retire jerseys, it is well known that Webster’s number 52 is one of the untouchables. Webster’s love of the game and his unrivaled commitment to beating his opponent (literally) took its toll. He suffered from severe post-career depression. It was believed to be medically connected with brain damage caused from many years of violent collisions following the snap of the ball.

Barry Foster

Barry Foster was a great fifth-round value for the Steelers in that he rapidly emerged as one of the top running backs in the league being referred to as “the other Barry” (in reference to All-World Barry Sanders). During the run-centric early days of Coach Bill Cowher, Foster was one of the original “I’ll run him until the wheels fall off” back as in 1992 he ran the ball 390 times in a season. That punishment allowed him to earn 1,690 yards, still the Steelers single season record. Unfortunately, the wheels did fall off rather early in Foster’s career, and his departure due to injuries would soon open the door for the arrival of Jerome Bettis.

Clark Haggans

The Steelers had the luxury of being one of the few teams that ran the 3-4 in the 1990’s with most copycats focusing on the success of the 4-3 fronts during those years. This allowed the Steelers to sweep up 3-4 edge linebackers cheaply in the draft, and Clark Haggans was one of those late round steals. While at Colorado State, Haggans played with another linebacker by the name of Joey Porter, who was drafted by the Steelers the year prior. Haggans had to bide his time with the team playing mostly special teams in his first few years, but like Jason Worilds, when he got his chance, he made the most of it. Haggans collected 33.5 sacks with the Steelers before being swept up by the Arizona Cardinals in free agency where he played most of the rest of his career.

Hardy Nickerson

One of the best linebackers the Steelers ever drafted and he would have been higher on this list…except he was with the team for only a few years. Nickerson had a difficult time getting out of Coach Chuck Noll’s doghouse for a variety of reasons, yet, when given the chance he flashed great potential. However; it was his move to Tampa Bay and the middle linebacker position of the 4-3 where he fully bloomed. There he was a 5-time Pro Bowler and 2-time First Team All Pro and was voted to the 1990’s All Decade Team.

Craig Wolfley

Known best to Steelers fans as the whimsical sidekick to Tunch Ilkin in their popular radio show, Wolfley’s friendship with his fellow lineman began when both entered the same draft class in 1980. A dedicated weight lifter, Wolfley competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition in 1981 and he placed fifth. He moonlighted in sumo wrestling and boxing and even once lost to Butterbean in a bout. Wolfley never made a big splash on the NFL field during his career, but he was one of the team’s most dependable players and anytime you can get a longtime starter out of the fifth round you are doing well. Wolfley’s broadcasting career with the Steelers has endeared him as a fan favorite.

Just Missed the Cut:

Steve Furness (1972) A perennial back-up to the great linemen of the 1970’s Steel Curtain, Furness always performed well when called to action.

Lethon Flowers (1995) The hard-hitting strong safety make his presence known to receivers on the field, although his aggressiveness sometimes got him exposed in coverage.

Famous For the Wrong Reasons

Brent Jones (1986) One of the best fifth-round draft picks for the Steelers but he was released after camp! He ended up getting on the San Francisco 49ers roster where the pass catching tight end thrived by receiving Hall of Fame spirals from Joe Montana and Steve Young which helped to make Jones a three-time All Pro. A player that made Steelers green with envy…and remorse.

Cliff Stoudt (1977) This quarterback holds the record as the most “booed” player in Pittsburgh Steelers history. Hey…who would want to follow an act like Terry Bradshaw anyway?

Tee Martin (2000) Tee Martin’s infamy is that he was drafted by the Steelers while Tom Brady was still on the board! The team seemed to be unwisely looking for the next Kordell Stewart when they made this pick but Martin’s career was short and unremarkable. Brady? Well…

READ PAST ARTICLES OF THIS SERIES

Steelers Greatest Draft Picks: Round Six

Steelers Greatest Draft Picks: Round Seven

Steelers Greatest Draft Picks: Round Eight

Steelers Greatest Draft Picks: Round Nine +

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About Michael K. Reynolds

Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic and author of the acclaimed Heirs of Ireland series. MichaelKReynolds.com
  • Steelers12328882

    Barry ‘Bananas’ Foster! Still one of my favorites.

  • treeher

    You HAVE to include Steve Furness in the top 5. He’d have been a starter on any other team, and Steelers lost nothing when he was in the lineup. I’d have bumped Hardy Nickerson down because of his short stint with the Steelers despite his overall great career, but that depends on how you interpret the list. If it’s best players overall despite tenure with the team, then I’ve have to bump Wolfley out of the top 5.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    I like your picks Mike. What about Dennis “Dirt” Winston in 1977 or Larry Brown in 1971? They weren’t great players, but I can still remember them today (I must be getting old if I can remember guys from the 70’s).

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Bill! Thank you! I loved “Dirt” Winston. He was incredible, but had to wait so many years for the likes of Lambert and others to retire that people forget how good he was. As a matter of fact, by the time he began playing the D was a shell of it’s former self.

    He is responsible for some of the most memorable plays ever. He used to jump into piles when there was a fumble with no decision. Once there was already 10 guys in the pile when he got started and 5 minutes later, guess who ends up with the ball? Yup, it was Dirt! I could just imagine what went on under those piles.

    If memory serves, he once came up with one of these plays in a Super Bowl. He should definitely go down as one of the most unsung heroes anyway.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    I think he doesn’t get much notoriety because he didn’t have very many sacks. Also, he played for the Saints for a few years before coming back and finishing his career in Pittsburgh. Robin Cole was a first round pick the year they drafted Dirt. We had a pretty good linebacking corps back then. We sort of forget about them though, because neither is in the Hall of Fame.

  • treeher

    I forgot about both those guys and agree with you.

  • steeltown

    Barry Foster.. wow almost forgot about that guy.. what could’ve been

  • 20Stoney

    In spite of all of the yards he gained, the one Barry Foster play that always sticks in my mind was when he failed to field a kickoff and it was recovered by the other team.

  • Jason

    The fact that you put Pouncey’s name on the elite list with Mansfield,Dawson and Hartings is hilarious.

  • Big White

    Foster was pathetic. Sets an NFL record the previous year, then gives up on the game. Bam Morris took his job. Yep, same guy indicted for drug smuggling. Cost the team a lot of money. Probably should be looked at more as if the worst 5th round pick. Fun watching 95′ though.

  • Brendon Glad

    That is an awful, awful track record for fifth rounders. We are talking about a team that is 75 years old, and Tee martin and Brent Jones (who never played a snap as a Steeler) just missed the cut. I’ve said it 20 times on here…I don’t know why it is, but the Steelers do infinitely better with undrafted Free agents than they do with their 4th-7th round picks. They need to improve big-time if they ever want to catch teams like Seattle in the next 3-5 years.

  • Brendon Glad

    Oh, I missed that little caption above martin and Jones….but even though they weren’t on the “just missed cut list”, it doesn’t change my opinion. Horrible track record on 5th rounders.

  • walter mason

    Yea I seem to remember him getting slightly injured and refused to play in the playoffs when we needed him most. He said he didnt want to cause a worse injury or ruin his future after football or something like that. His heart definitely wasnt in playoff football and he soon quit.

  • http://www.michaelkreynolds.com/ Michael K. Reynolds

    And…so much value as a fifth rounder. He had a short run with the team…but it was a great one.

  • http://www.michaelkreynolds.com/ Michael K. Reynolds

    Those are both good points. There was an emphasis on players who were with the team long term, but balancing that out with their skill/overall NFL careers got a little tricky. I gave Hardy a pass on this one because I don’t think they handled him well when he was with the team.

  • http://www.michaelkreynolds.com/ Michael K. Reynolds

    Bill those are great points. Other than Mike Webster the Steelers line never got their due “props”.

  • http://www.michaelkreynolds.com/ Michael K. Reynolds

    I am thrilled I could be so entertaining. I…like you…would like to see Pouncey have an impact on the offensive line commiserate with his talent. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him, but I also think we’re running out off time to see that happen.

  • http://www.michaelkreynolds.com/ Michael K. Reynolds

    Agreed.

  • Jason

    I agree but I fear we actually have seen the best of him here. Very disappointing because as you point out his talent is on par with the greats but his heart doesn’t hold a candle to a Webster or Dawson.

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