Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Fifth Round

Should you be excited this year when you hear these words: “With their fifth round selection in the 2017 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers pick…”?

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: (2009) Joe Burnett, (2007) Cameron Stephenson, (2006) Omar Jacobs, (2006) Charles Davis and (2004) Nathaniel Adibi?

No?

Well…here are a few players who should be a bit more familiar: (2013) Terry Hawthorne, (2012) Chris Rainey, (2011) Chris Carter, (2010) Crezdon Butler, (2010) Chris Scott & (2010) Stevenson Sylvester.

Shall we keep going?

How about the more recent selections of (2014) Shaquille Richardson and (2014) Wesley Johnson?

But wait…there is hope, because in 2015 the Steelers did chose TE Jesse James, an emerging fan favorite. But his story is yet to be fully told.

Still, for the most part, General Manager Kevin Colbert has been singing the blues in the fifth round. That might explain why he and Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t even bother to draft a fifth rounder in 2016. When their turn came, they simply held up a hand and said, “Ah…we’re gonna pass this year.”

Perhaps they need to turn the radio off in the draft room. Did you know the Steelers selected players by the name of George Jones in 1997 (famous Country-Western legend) and Rickey 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 start spinning some classic vinyl here as we continue with your greatest Steelers draft hits of the modern era (since 1969).

Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | Fifth Round

RANKNAMEPOSITIONYEAR DRAFTEDCOLLEGE
1Mike WebsterC1974Wisconsin
2Barry FosterRB1990Arkansas
3Clark HaggansLB2000Colorado St.
4Hardy NickersonLB1987California
5Craig WolfleyLB1980Syracuse

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 all of NFL lore. (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 rushing 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 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 major 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…

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

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

  • Jaybird

    That 1987 draft produced Nickerson in the 5th and Lloyd in the 6th. Imagine us getting linebackers like that in the late rounds of this year’s draft!!!!

  • MOVIEBRAINROT

    Another great list!
    Of course, with anything posted, we get to hand-pick what we like and do not like. I would love to throw William Gay up into your honorable mentions. I know that he is not always a fan favorite, but look what he has done, and let’s not forget his TD/INT ratio that will be tested over time as a Steeler. However, it would be hard to take someone off this list to add his name.

    5th Round has been generous to us as Steeler fans

  • MOVIEBRAINROT

    I almost cried when NIckerson went to the Bucs and Lloyd is my all-time favorite Steelers player.

  • Jaybird

    Nickerson was awesome – he used to flex his traps after making a great play – I loved it! Free agency was brutal to us back then . Chad brown killed me when he left also.
    As for Lloyd- he was a fav of mine for a long time also. If you look at my profile pic – that’s Lloyds #95 authentic game jersey on my Bullmastiff!

  • Jaybird

    Yeah your right , Gay is a good one. I think he should be on there over Wolfley.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Nice list. Webster was pound for pound one of the strongest guys around. Add that to all his feats. Truly tragic ending. Would make for a great Hollywood movie.

  • Voice O’ Reason

    I have no quantifiable evidence for this claim, but the Steelers may have drafted the best 5th rounder (Webster) and second best 6th rounder (AB) in NFL history. It gives me an acute, shooting pain in my temple to even say it, but the best 6th rounder is that QB up in New England…”he whose name shall not be spoken.”

  • Jeff McNeill

    Brady was a 6th rounder.

  • dany

    haha no wonder I never pay attention to the 5th round, unconsciously we all know it will suck. Since AB everyone pays attention to the 6th, and the 7th is always interesting since its the last grasp

    you forgot Gay though!

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Webby’s demise was very sad and also puzzling. I would have thought that a guy who played something like 17 years, and presumably lived in Pittsburgh ie. inexpensive housing, would not have ended up living in his car. Players didn’t make the kind of money they do now but they were still very handsomely paid. Very sad to see that happen to a Steelers stalwart nonetheless.

  • JAMESH

    I feel like Steve Furness needs to be more than just an honorable mention but not sure how to place him on this list. He was with the Steelers from 1972-1980 and was a part of the Steel Curtain.

  • SoCal Steeler

    Nice work, Michael. Looks like the Steelers need to get to work and find that 5th Rd. magic back too. Maybe James Connor this year?

  • Delboka

    WOFLEY: he never made a “BIG MAJOR SPLASH.”

    …big major….come on man learn to write. Nice run-on sentences.

  • Yes…the departure of Chad Brown just about did me in as a Steelers fan. The team’s arrogance with free agency (we’re so good at drafting that we don’t need to participate in free agency) has cost them championships and several of them to the Patriots. HUGE Lloyd fan myself.

  • Big Play Gay is certainly a worthy contender. He could be fifth…or sixth on this list and it wouldn’t be wrong. Wolfley is the full package in that he was a solid contributor, didn’t struggle as much early as Gay, never left the team for free agency and had a long Steelers career following. Plus, he was a gifted athlete at his position. I’m sticking with Wolf but your point is valid and noted.

  • You raise the seed money and I’ll write the script.

  • Jeff Burton

    You forgot Frank ‘The Tank” Summers (who tanked) for your List of Shame. Just seeing the name Cliff Stoudt brings a reaction from me even now. Chuck Noll set out to prove his saying, ‘The quarterback is only 1/11th of the offense’ and Stoudt did just that.