Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Second Round

The end is near.

There are only two rounds left to analyze in this series exploring the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting history during the modern football era (since 1969). What will the past predict about the potential of success for the Steelers 2017 second round draft pick?

Apparently, it comes down almost to a flip of a coin.

At least when examining the team’s recent Round Two selections under General Manager Kevin Colbert: (2016) Sean Davis, (2015) Senquez Golson, (2014) Stephon Tuitt, (2013) Le’Veon Bell, (2011) Marcus Gilbert, (2012) Mike Adams, (2010) Jason Worilds, (2008) Limas Sweed, (2007) Lamar Woodley, (2005) Bryant McFadden, (2004) Ricardo Colclough and (2003) Alonzo Jackson.

Surprisingly, the front office didn’t do too well with second round draft selections during the glory years of the 1970’s and their picks at this level in the 1980’s were abysmal.

Conversely, the second round draft picks during the Bill Cowher reign were superb and largely responsible for the team’s ascent back into being a perennial championship threat.

Then the team hit some draft day second round potholes with Will Blackwell (1997), Jeremy Staat (1998) and Scott Shields (1999). Ouch front office…ouch.

It was Kevin Colbert to the rescue in 2000, with a three pack of second round gold nuggets in (2000) Marvel Smith, (2001) Kendrell Bell and (2002) Antwaan Randle El. Yes, Bell was more prospect than player but these certainly were three exciting young players who impacted the team immediately.

But then the Colbert genius bubble burst and it’s been touch and go since, although it can be argued he’s been doing well as of late.

There is no question the quality of these picks are handicapped greatly by the team’s position in the draft. An end-of-the-round second is more like an early third but that doesn’t excuse or diminish the necessity of a team to score big in rounds one and two.

So how did Colbert’s selections in the number two spot compare with draft picks of the past? We are so glad you asked. As it turns out, he’s still responsible for several second rounders in the top ten.

And will one in particular ring the Bell as being listed as a Top Five Greatest Draft Hit?

Admittedly, the first three on this greatest hits list were relative no-brainers (although the order may be challenged). After that? Meh…not so easy.

So…here it goes. Grab your flaming torches and pitchforks and let’s do this.

Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | Second Round

1Jack LambertLB1974Kent State
2Dermontti DawsonC1988Kentucky
3Jack HamLB1971Penn State
4Levon KirklandLB1992Clemson
5Carnell LakeDB1989UCLA

Jack Lambert

To fans young and old Jack Lambert was as close to a super hero as any of the great 1970’s players. With Lambert at your side you were automatically the toughest team on the field. His presence was palpable on every play and his toothless snarl is firmly embedded in Steelers lore. At 6’4 and just a shade over 200 pounds in his rookie year Lambert was a wiry man made of solid steel and gristle. Although Joe Greene is widely considered the foundation of the Steelers defensive greatness of that era, no one embodied toughness on the team more than Lambert. The Hall of Famer was a 9-time Pro Bowler and 6-time First Team All-Pro and won NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year and later in his career won overall NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Perhaps Lambert’s greatest play was in Super Bowl X when he slammed the Dallas Cowboys Cliff Harris to the ground after the player taunted Steelers kicker Roy Gerela following a missed field goal. That play (which quite nearly got Lambert ejected from the game) shifted the tone of the match around instantly and was the key reason the Rooneys were able to put another Lombardi in their trophy case. Chuck Noll later referred to Lambert as a player who “defended what was right”. A true all-time Steelers great.

Dermontti Dawson

Few athletes of any size combined grace, power and speed like Dermontti Dawson. His teammates called him “Dirt” because of the way he grinded opponents into the ground. Dawson single-handedly redefined his position as a “pulling center”. No one before and no one since could pull to the edge with such pace and agility only to deliver a blow with tremendous force on some poor cornerback or outside linebacker. It was like watching pins fly at a bowling alley. Almost matching his greatness on the field was Dawson’s humility off of the field which made him one of the most beloved players in the league. Dawson, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, was named to nine straight Pro Bowls and was a 6-time First Team All Pro.

Jack Ham

Despite the long and storied parade of great Steelers linebackers to choose from many oldtimers still consider Jack Ham the best of the bunch and more than a few wise individuals feel he is the greatest outside linebacker of all time. A superb athlete, he was equally adept pursuing the passer, stopping the run or shooting out to cover receivers, something he could do as well as any NFL safety. Chuck Noll once said Ham was the “fastest Steeler for the first ten yards” which included the running backs and receivers. Ham created a mismatch for any offensive coordinator who literally had to accommodate for his unique skill set and often chose to ignore his side of the field as they would with a shutdown corner. Ham was as brilliant as he was talented and his fox-like instincts led him to 25 sacks (unofficially), 21 fumbles recovered and 32 interceptions. Should he be at the top above Jack Lambert? Some would say so, although the nod went to Lambert due to his…winning personality. Still, Ham was a Hall of Famer, 8-time Pro Bowler and 6-time All Pro and easily among the list of Steelers legends.

Levon Kirkland

As a player, Levon Kirkland was a big, big man. Surprisingly nimble for his size (only 6’1 but pushing 300 pounds at times) it was like having a nosetackle with dance moves on the field. Kirkland was an undisputed champion when it came to plugging up the middle against the run and considering that stout Joel Steed was on the line in front of him most offenses simply avoided running up the middle. After Greg Lloyd went down with a season-ending injury Kirkland took over the nickel linebacker position. Opposing teams targeted him at first until they realized he was even more agile than the man he replaced and Kirkland finished that season with four interceptions. When Kirkland was paired with Chad Brown in the middle and with Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene at the edges it was arguably the Steelers best linebacking squad of all time…and definitely the finest in the team’s 3-4 era.

Carnell Lake

After playing outside linebacker in college, Lake was such a gifted athlete he made the transition to strong safety in the NFL as if he was born to play there. Incredibly fast, he had no risk of being outrun and with his linebacking instincts he could come into the box and fill the gap like no other player during his time. Although Rod Woodson was the undisputed star of the secondary, Lake was equally valuable and earned 5 Pro Bowl nods. Lake was one of those players who received more recognition by Steelers fans than in the rest of the league (mostly because the team was saturated with defensive stars) but even Peter King of Sports Illustrated gave his vote of NFL MVP to Lake in 1997. A sharp player, his instincts and character gave rise to a career as a valued position coach for the Steelers.

Suspended in Animation:

Le’Veon Bell (2013) By the time Bell’s career is completed, he has the talent to move completely to the top of this list. Should his talent already propel him past Leven Kirkland and Carnell Lake? There is a strong argument for this. But you don’t get on this top five list based on potential. You’re judged on your entire career portfolio and even the most frothing at the mouth Bell supporters must admit that the uber-gifted running back’s initial few years with the team have been clouded by his poor judgment. The original suspension? Yes, chalk that up to possibly being with the wrong person at the wrong time. But fool us twice, and shame on you. When you combine suspensions and untimely injuries, Bell’s young career is too incomplete to engrave his spot in the top five. It will be up to him whether he is the next Franco Harris of the Steelers…or the next Eric Green.

Just Missed the Cut:

Chad Brown (1993) A linebacker who was one of the most physically gifted players the Steelers have ever drafted and a lover of snakes his rise to Pittsburgh glory was short-lived because free agency (and the Steelers feeble attempts to keep their players during those years) took him off into the sunset.

Marvel Smith (2000) A left tackle who held the flank for one of the more formidable lines the Pittsburgh Steelers have boasted. Back problems got him just at the time when he finally had a decent quarterback to block for in Ben Roethlisberger.

Kordell Stewart (1995) There really is no such thing as a “beloved” quarterback in Pittsburgh and Kordell Stewart’s downfall probably was his insistence on playing behind the center. In his famous and early “Slash” role (wide receiver/running back/quarterback) he was one of the most exciting players in the NFL.

Antwaan Randle El (2002) In Kordell Stewart and Hines Ward the Steelers struck it rich with former collegiate quarterback types. Randle El was the most exciting player to arrive in the draft and he didn’t disappoint once he hit the big leagues. His pass in the Super Bowl XL will live as his greatest NFL moment.

LaMarr Woodley (2007) Now here’s a touchy subject. LaMarr Woodley making the “just missed” list. The truth is had the power edge rusher been able to stay healthy and perhaps had a stronger work ethic we might be talking about him as one of the all-time Steelers linebacker greats. So we shed a tear for what could have been.

Kendrell Bell (2001) Talk about a flash in the pan, Kendrell Bell was the ultimate. But oh did he flash! When he burst onto the scene (and he literally did) Bell would obliterate offensive lines en route to the ball handler. An explosion waiting to happen his style proved to be his downfall as his NFL tenure was short.

Still Competing:

Marcus Gilbert (2011) Early on in Gilbert’s career he was put in the same “bust bus” as Mike Adams. But he has been a steady hand at right tackle since he joined the Steelers and as of late, the big man is beginning to get credit by some as the league’s best at his position.

Stephon Tuitt (2014) Many claim Cameron Heyward is the Steelers best defensive player, but he might not even be the best defensive lineman on the team. 2017 will probably be the year Tuitt firmly claims that title, and his star should continue to rise. Definitely a second contract priority for the Steelers.

Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Ninth Round +
Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Eighth Round
Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Seventh Round
Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Sixth Round
Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Fifth Round
Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Fourth Round
Steelers Spin: Greatest Draft Hits – Third Round

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

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

  • Nunya

    Ugh…Stewart could have been to a pro bowl every year had he played wide receiver. As a QB, he was dreadful unless the gameplan was only two reads and run. When he was signed with Chicago for a big contract after leaving the Steelers, he didn’t even finish the season as the starter. His stubbornness cost him a possible HOF career because he was almost unguarded in the slot.

  • Steelers12

    i remember as a kid watching Bell and my dad being excited for his future, oh well.
    LaMarr Woodley was a beast then got paid and got lazy, injury prone and fat.

    Kordell Stewart was the first Steeler’s jersey i had, he should of switch to WR and been the 1st Terrelle Pryor but he let his ego get in the way of things

  • SfSteeler

    ‘Lambert’ and ‘winning personality’, you dont see those two words in the same sentence often!

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Wow what a list. I don’t care if Bell breaks every Steeler record he will never pass Lambert. 1975, Steelers dressing room, Lambert yells across to Lynn Swann,
    “Hey, Swanny, I should have been number 1, not you!”

    Swan never said a word, but would go on to admit that that was just Jack being Jack. He was probably just glad they were in the same team. I defer to Lambert.

  • Mike Lloyd

    I will disagree here Michael….I actually think Lambert and Ham are 1A 1B. You could flip em, and that’d be great too…I loved Dermotti Dawson as much as anyone, but Lambert and Ham are top 5 LB of All time. All Time! Not to mention 4x Super Bowl champions.
    While Dawson was his own special kind of great, I just think Ham and Lambert are in the Pantheon of Champions, and All time greats. Whether fair or unfair, being part of the 70’s Steelers dynasty’s​ 4 title seperates Ham and Lambert. Just my opinion.

  • A couple of things…I guess you have to decide if you are going to reward a player for the state of the team they landed on. I don’t think Dermotti should be dinged because he wasn’t drafted onto the 70’s Steelers dynasty. I do think he had as much to do for the resurgence of the Steelers ground game in the 90’s than any other player on the team during his time. Secondly…I’m going to use your own argument. Dawson is MOST definitely considered in the Top Five centers of all time. If you start throwing in names like Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor…and the list goes on and on…it gets crowded in Top Five land for linebackers. Don’t get me wrong…I’m putting my boys on the list…but I think Dawson has a much more clear and compelling argument as a potential GOAT at his position. I do think what separates the three players is RAZOR THIN…but I’m sticking with the order I have.

  • Mike Lloyd

    You are correct about classifying Dawson as top 5…
    It is razor thin… While I can agree with you about that, It remains subjective since there’s no absolute right answer, but since this is your exercise, I agree to your results. Lol 🙂

  • Jason Vancil

    Kirkland is my favorite “under appreciated” Steeler.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Alright, Michael, here we go! I honestly thought that this might be the round where you finally deserve that dreaded “0-1.” This round was a minefield at the top. But soldier, you navigated it admirably. Honestly, when I looked back through the entirety of the 2nd round picks since 1969, I was completely struck by just how bad the lot truly was. For all the credit Pittsburgh has received through the years for their “superior drafting abilities,” one must conclude that it comes from the notion that when we get it right… we get it REALLY right. But this exercise has shown me just how frequently we have actually gotten it quite wrong, as well. But I suppose instead of being a team that is a constant 5 on a 1-10 scale, it must be much better (as proven by our 6 Lombardi’s) to be a team that sometimes goes at a 9/10 clip, and then also sometimes goes at a 1 or 2. Those stars, those spectacular “hits,” can sustain a team for long enough stretches, that it soothes the fan base, and keeps it interesting enough that we all just hold on and hunker down through the bad times, knowing that the storm (the 80’s) will pass, and soon we will be bathed once more, in the glorious sunshine.

    I did not envy you when it came to the task of choosing an order between Lambert, Dawson, and Ham. If we’re being honest, it likely could be better thought of a 1A, 1B, 1C. I mean, I don’t hardly know what criteria you can use to separate the 3 guys. As far as Kirkland and Lake, you got them right. And I liked the order. Kirkland is still one of our more underrated LB’s. I still remember when we drafted Kendrell Bell. I was excited. And then when I saw him play, I thought he was going to be a star. I was extremely saddened to watch his career get zapped because of injury. And if Woodley could have just stayed away from the buffet.

    But back to the main attraction… Because there is NO wrong answer on this one, I’ll just say upfront that you earned the now 7-0-1. But that’s NOT a cop-out grade due to that previous statement, but more so because yet again, you and I agree. If I was FORCED to pick, as you were/are, I’d have Lambert at 1A. So again you get the top pick correct, which is most important.

    But to somehow separate “Dirt” from “Dobre Shunka,” requires some emotional and mental gymnastics. I struggled with this choice for longer than I care to admit. Both guys were extremely durable. Both guys were Hall of Famers. And both guys are considered among the greatest of all-time at their respective positions. Can it be as simple as to say that Ham won 4-Super Bowls and Dawson won 0? Perhaps. It’s not fair, but this world isn’t fair. And can we just go to the stats, even though they played different positions? Yes, maybe… and no. But I will say that I’ve always been struck by the one that Ham reportedly holds, which is the “53 takeaways” being the most in NFL history, by a non-Defensive Back.

    Centers don’t get the glory, and LB’s often do. So again it’s not fair. And again, there is no wrong answer. In my gut, I really see why you went Dawson over Ham. In my head, I can see how Dawson gains the accolades from opponents and teammates and coaches alike. But in my heart… in my heart… I just think that Jack Ham should be 1B to Lambert’s 1A. It just sort of feels right.

    And now, on to the mountaintop… Our summit awaits.

  • I wish I could go back and experience Steelers games in the 70’s over again. The highlights don’t do the justice of watching a game when you have absolutely no idea what the outcome would be. When I was watching the Steelers in 70’s I was a competitive football player myself, but I was also a dumb kid. For me it was Lambert, Swann, Bradshaw and Franco…all of the glamour guys. I wasn’t into the subtleties of the game, and because of that, I didn’t experience Jack Ham to the level that I should have. After researching for this article, I wish I could watch him anew. Just a phenomenal, phenomenal player. Still, I do think “Dirt” gets the nod just because he was a once in a generation player at his position. He completely redefined what a center could do…and he did it with consistency and excellence. But you’re right! Not putting Jack Ham at number two…just didn’t seem right.

  • Yo…Darth. All of those novel-long critiques and you quit at Round Two? I just went into check if you had posted something on Round One…but I guess you ran out of gas. Way to keep us hanging!

  • Darth Blount 47

    I always did want to pen the ultimate cliff-hanger.

    I never run out of gas… I just had other planets to target for obliteration. Such is the life of a Sith Lord.

    Please don’t take personal offense, I enjoyed the series very much. I hope you don’t feel disrespected. Truthfully, I’ve meant to go and put a proper bow on that serial. I sincerely apologize for docking too long at the Station Penultimate. I’ve instructed my secretary to clear my schedule. Please check back soon and we’ll see this thing through.