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Steelers Nearly Drafted Jerry Rice in 1985

Bob Labriola of revealed that Jerry Rice was nearly drafted by the Steelers in the 1985 NFL Draft.



San Francisco 49ers WR Jerry Rice
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice takes off with a 51 yard Steve Young touchdown pass during the second quarter of their game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 14, 1993. Rice caught 8 passes for 172 yards and four touchdowns. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

It turns out that the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL was nearly a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to Bob Labriola of, the Steelers planned on selecting Jerry Rice out of Mississippi Valley State in the 1985 NFL Draft, but the San Francisco 49ers traded up with New England from No. 28 to No. 16 to select Rice.

The Steelers had the 20th overall pick and thought they had a chance to get Rice after the Cincinnati Bengals used the 13th overall pick on wide receiver Eddie Brown. The Steelers settled for Wisconsin defensive tackle Daryl Sims, who ended up playing just two seasons with Pittsburgh.

Just like passing on Pitt quarterback Dan Marino in 1983 NFL Draft, it’s one of those “what if” moments for the Steelers. Can you imagine a Marino and Rice duo for the Steelers in the 1980s and 1990s? The Steelers most likely would have won several Super Bowl titles in that era.

Labriola said former Steelers assistant personnel director and scout Bill Nunn played a big role in discovering Rice at Mississippi Valley State. Nunn, who’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor, started as a sportswriter at the Pittsburgh Courier and developed deep knowledge of football programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Rice set a bunch of NCAA records at Mississippi Valley State, but the offense, which featured five wide receivers in the formation at a time and operated out of the no-huddle, wasn’t what NFL teams typically were comfortable using in that era, so there were some doubts.

“Nunn looked past all of that and was certain Jerry Rice was going to be a great pro, and by the time the 1985 NFL Draft was at hand he had convinced Chuck Noll of the same thing,” Labriola wrote. “The Steelers held the 20th overall pick in that draft, and as the picking in the first round moved into the teens, Noll was prepared to spend the team’s selection on Rice. After the Cincinnati Bengals used the 13th overall pick on wide receiver Eddie Brown, it seemed as though the Steelers were going to get their man, but the San Francisco 49ers, picking 28th and last in the first round, worked a trade with New England to move up into the Patriots’ spot at No. 16 overall and snatch Rice.”

Rice, who went on to win three Super Bowl titles with the San Francisco 49ers, put up historic numbers with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young during his 16 seasons in San Fran. Overall, Rice played 20 seasons in the NFL and holds league records in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and touchdown receptions (197). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

Rice was a six-time NFL receiving yards leader, two-time receptions leader and six-time receiving touchdowns leader. He was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1993. Overall, he earned 13 Pro Bowl selections and was named first-team All-Pro 10 times. He’s without a doubt the G.O.A.T at the wide receiver position.