Here’s the first installment of our five-part series looking back at the best drafts by a team each decade.
We opted to start with the 1970s because explaining the NFL (and AFL) drafts before then become somewhat complicated. As we know, the competing league held its own separate drafts from 1960-66 before the Common Draft was implemented in 1967.
For instance, quarterback Joe Namath was a first-round selection of the AFL’s New York Jets and the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals in 1965. That same year, running back Gale Sayers was drafted by both the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs.
That all finally changed when the league’s opted to merge in ’67 and for trivia fans, Michigan State defensive tackle Bubba Smith was the first overall pick by the Baltimore Colts that year.
Back to the task at hand and that’s a look at the best team draft of the ‘70s. And it’s safe to say we’re starting out with a doozy.
1974 Pittsburgh Steelers
It has been referred to by many as the greatest draft in NFL history. As we know, all such claims are merely subjective. Of course, when you add four eventual Hall of Fame players to your roster in one year, it adds up to a pretty good start.
But things weren’t always good for the Pittsburgh Steelers, born in 1933 and dubbed the Pirates before changing their nom de guerre. From their debut season to 1971, the franchise played in one postseason game…and lost.
In 1969, the Rooney family hired Chuck Noll to be their head coach. The club drafted defensive tackle Joe Greene in the first round and things would never be the same…in a good way.
A year later, following a 1-13 season, the franchise made quarterback Terry Bradshaw the first overall pick in the 1970 NFL draft. In 1971, linebacker Jack Ham and defensive end Dwight White were amongst the team’s draftees.
In ’72, the first round brought running back Franco Harris. That season, the team was an unprecedented 11-3, won the AFC Central and Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” gave the Steelers their first-ever playoff victory.
Now flash forward to 1974. Pittsburgh was coming off another playoff appearance but had fallen short to the Oakland Raiders. Still, this was now a strong Super Bowl contender that needed just a little more talent.
And they got it.
In the first five rounds of the 1974 NFL draft, Noll and company would wind up selecting five players, four of which would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the first round, the Steelers added wide receiver Lynn Swann (USC) and one round later, linebacker Jack Lambert (Kent State). The team did not have a third-round pick but added wide receiver John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) and cornerback Jimmy Allen (UCLA) in the fourth round. With the 125th overall pick (fifth round), Pittsburgh opted for center Mike Webster (Wisconsin).
History would soon be made to the tune of four Super Bowl titles in six seasons.
From 1974-79, the Steelers were division champions all six years, compiling a 67-20-1 regular-season mark and a 13-2 postseason record, winning those aforementioned four Super Bowl titles over that span.
All but Allen, part of the team’s first two NFL titles, is currently enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Swann was MVP of Super Bowl X while Lambert, Stallworth and Webster enjoyed legendary careers and usually came up big in the big games.
Four Hall of Famers in one draft is a pretty big accomplishment and may never be duplicated. Then again, the feats of those Steelers’ teams will always be tough to tops as well.
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