Steelers 5th Round Draft History: The Noll and Donahoe-Cowher Eras

“What! They gave him to New York for a 5th?” was almost the universal reaction to Steelers decision to trade Santonio Holmes. A 5th round pick for a Super Bowl MVP certainly is a fire sale price, but as with any draft, it is not “when you pick, but who you pick.”

Greg Lloyd and Tom Brady were 6th round picks. Terrell Davis was also a 6th round pick and Merril Hoge was a 10th round pick — Future Pro Bowlers are available in every round.

A fifth round pick can pay large of dividends, if you use it right. With that, let’s take quick look at how the fifth round as treated the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Chuck Noll’s Fifths

Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Chuck Noll had a sharp eyes for talent and their history of fifth round picks proves it.

Mike Webster, taken 5th, the gold standard at center for two generations. But the 1974 was not the only time this trio found struck pay dirt in the 5th, picking players like:

  • Larry Brown, TE/OT ’71,
  • Steve Furness , DE ’72, S
  • Steve Courson, OT ’77,
  • Craig Wolfley, G ’80,
  • Hardy Nickerson, ILB, ’87, and
  • Barry Foster, FB ’90.

A Hall of Famer. Several Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl caliber players. Certainly there were plenty of marginal players and out right busts interspersed, but The Emperor and Company did well for itself during the fifth round.

Their record would look even better had they kept Brent Jones, their 1986 fifth round pick, whose sin was to be a pass catching tight end during an era when Noll refused to throw to the tight end. Jones of course went onto to win fame, and Super Bowls, with the San Francisco 49ers.

Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s Fifth Round Picks

As Director of Football Operations from 1992 to 1999 Tom Donahoe won a reputation for doing more with less. And part of that came from his ability to find late round draft gems.

Donahoe did not match his predecessors’ record in the 5th round but he did find some good players there.

  • In 1994, the Steelers took Myron Bell a hard-hitting safety whose play allowed Carnell Lake to move to corner, paving the way for the Steelers appearance in Super Bowl XXX.

Bill Cowher made the same switch with Bell and Lake in 1997 and wound up in the AFC Title game.

  • In 1995 they picked Lee Flowers in the 5th. No one will ever confuse Flowers with great Steeler safeties such as Troy Polamalu, Lake, or Donnie Shell. But Flowers was hard hitting, outspoken, and blossomed into a five year starter – excellent value for a fifth round pick.

In 1999, Donahoe’s last draft with the Steelers, he took tight end Jerame Tuman, who had a nine year career with the Steelers as a solid blocking tight end and occasional starter. Again, a good value pick.

All of this history is interesting and instructive, to a point.

The relevant question is what has Kevin Colbert done with his fifth round picks, and what does that tell us about what he might do this year?

For that, stay tuned for the next edition of “The Colbert Record” which will profile his fifth round picks.

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2 thoughts on “Steelers 5th Round Draft History: The Noll and Donahoe-Cowher Eras

  1. The World Cup is a great event, but I really fail to see what it has to do with the Steelers 5th round draft history.

    Please, limit your comments to those that are relevant to the threat.

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