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Best Ever NFL Draft

The Game Before the Money Podcast discussed the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Draft class that produced four Pro Football Hall of Fame members (plus a fifth signed as an undrafted free agent) in Episode 47 of the football history podcast

Pittsburgh Steelers 1974 Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers collected one of the greatest draft classes in pro football history in the 1974 NFL draft. Many people will say that it was the greatest draft of all time. I certainly wouldn’t debate that. The Steelers drafted four future Hall of Famers in that class. Each of those players played a very important role in the Steelers winning four Super Bowls over six years, one of the greatest runs in pro football history. In the first round, the Steelers picked receiver Lynn Swann, linebacker Jack Lambert in the second, receiver John Stallworth in the fourth round, and center Mike Webster in the fifth round.

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Most Hall of Famers in One NFL Draft

Often overlooked about that 1974 Steelers draft is that they actually ended up with five Hall of Famers that were rookies that year. Safety Donnie Shell was signed as an undrafted free agent and was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2020 class.

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Chuck Noll’s First Season

In 1969, the Steelers drafted future Hall of Famer Joe Greene. They also added another defensive lineman who proved very important to the Steel Curtain defense, L.C. Greenwood. The 1969 Steelers finished 1-13 in Chuck Noll’s first season and ended up with the first overall draft pick of the 1970 NFL draft. They selected Terry Bradshaw with that pick. They also drafted Future Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Blount in 1970. So that’s two Hall of Famers that the Steelers picked up in the 1970 draft. Now, here’s another overlooked fact. Between 1969 and 1974, the Steelers drafted at least one Hall of Famer every year except for one. That’s at least one Hall of Famer in five out of six drafts!

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1974 NFL Players Strike

Pittsburgh’s 1974 draft class stands as one of the best, if not the best, in NFL history. There were four Hall of Famers, two other guys who played at least seven years in the NFL, plus an undrafted free agent that made the Hall of Fame. There really isn’t a draft class that fully compares. Not only was that a special draft class, but there were also special circumstances surrounding that year’s training camp.

An NFL player strike organized by the Players Association started on July 1st. Most veteran players went on strike. Rookies, however, showed up to training camp as usual since they weren’t eligible to join the players association until the regular season. That meant that the draft class of 1974 got a lot of extra practice time and extra training from coaches that they wouldn’t have received under regular circumstances.

Rookies Benefit from NFL Strike

Charlie Davis told The Game Before the Money how he and the other rookies benefited. “That strike, we don’t know how much of an effect it had on guys making the team, but it really gave us an opportunity to learn the terminology and all the nomenclature for the different plays and the system that they ran,” Davis said.

“We sometimes would have meetings in the evening with the defensive line coach, and it would only be four or five guys. That meant we were running a 4-3 defense. So we would practice the whole practice. I mean, it wasn’t like a lot of substitutes or anything. So we got our knowledge base down, and we got in pretty good shape. Once you know what to do and you got that much time to work on how, you’ll see the results.”

The veterans didn’t return for several weeks, and the rookies felt confident about their extra practice time. Charlie told me that one rookie told a well-known veteran, “Hey, welcome to our training camp.” That sort of cockiness illustrates how ready the rookies felt by the time the veterans returned.

First Steelers Super Bowl

The Steelers enjoyed their first 6-0 NFL preseason in history, and they were on their way to bigger and better things in 1974 after two years of playoff losses. The team won their first of four Super Bowls in the 1970s, beating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl 9.

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Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

Like sports history? Listen to The Game Before the Money Podcast! Most episodes include stories from legendary football stars.

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