With the NFL draft, when the worst team of the previous season has the first pick of the allegedly best players, things don’t often go according to plan.

There are many years when teams get it wrong and the worst three number one picks by the Steelers were running back Tim Worley (1981), guard John Rienstra (1986) and linebacker Huey Richardson (1991.)

Worley lasted only four seasons, rushing for just 1,792 yards while managing to fumble 20 times.

The only good thing about Rienstra was his trade to the Browns after two seasons where he continued to stink.

Richardson played only five games as a rookie for the Steelers and just 16 in his short NFL career with Pittsburgh, Washington and New York (Jets.)

When Chuck Noll became the Steelers’ head coach in 1969, he inherited a bad team, defined by the 1-13 record of his first season. Using the draft to build the dynasty that the Steelers became in the seventies, he carefully put together one of the greatest football teams that stand out in the NFL.

The pinnacle of his method, building through the draft, was reached in 1974 when the Steelers managed to pick four players who ended up in Football’s Hall of Fame. To pick one eventual Hall of Famer is a bonus, but four is an accomplishment that has never been repeated.

Perennial losers for decades, the early seventies saw coach Noll slowly preparing the foundations of a Steelers’ team that could compete in the playoffs. In 1974, he completed his creation by drafting four outstanding players who brought a Super Bowl each back to Pittsburgh.

1975 media guide photo
Lynn Swann

With the Steelers first pick, (#21 overall), they selected wide receiver Lynn Swann, from USC.  Appreciated as a graceful and acrobatic receiver, Swann turned away potential suitors by not putting a good performance in the 40 dash during the trials. 

As the Steelers were keen on drafting Swann, they re timed him.  Swann did significantly better the second time around, but the Steelers kept those timings to themselves, providing the chance for them to draft Swann. 

Swann was elected to the Pro Bowl 3 times and entered the Hall of Fame in 2001.

1975 media guide photo
Jack Lambert

In the second round, the Steelers selected outside linebacker Jack Lambert, from Kent State.  He was the definition of undersized when it came to linebackers, but had a vicious mean streak with intelligence for the game that few others possessed. 

Lambert was named the Steelers’ MVP twice in 1976 & 1981 and was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 1976 and 1979. Lambert was elected to the Pro Bowl 9 times and entered the Hall of Fame in 1990.

John Stallworth
John Stallworth

To complement Swann, and add even more weaponry to quarterback Terry Bradshaw, they selected receiver John Stallworth from Alabama A&M in the fourth round.

Stallworth went on to head the Steelers’ all-time leading receivers list with 8,723 yards, until overtaken by Hines Ward last season.

Stallworth was elected to the Pro Bowl 4 times and entered the Hall of Fame in 2002.

1975 media guide photo
Mike Webster

With an aging center Ray Mansfield, who had been with the team since 1964, the Steelers were looking to draft his successor.  They found an exceptional replacement in Wisconsin with their fifth round pick Mike Webster.

Considered to be undersized, Webster was as strong as a bull and technically very sound.  Webster went on to play more seasons (15) and more games (220) than any other player in the Steelers’ history. Webster was elected to the Pro Bowl 9 times and entered the Hall of Fame in 1997.

1974 was an extraordinary year for the Steelers. Coming off an outstanding draft, they also acquired tight end Randy Grossman and defensive back Donnie Shell.

The team went all the way to the Super Bowl for the first time in their history to beat Minnesota 16-6. The team went on to win three more in 6 years. That 1974 draft certainly made that possible.

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