For NFL teams, drafting in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds (and 8-12, back in the day) is not so much a science as it is a wish and a prayer. For every L.C. Greenwood (10th round, 1969) or Darren Perry (8th round, 1992) there’s Rob Blanchflower, Dallas Baker Bo Lacy and dozens of other nameless, forgotten late round selections.
From 2000-2019, the Steelers had 79 picks between the 5th and 8th rounds, only 14 of them were starters for one or more seasons and only 8 of the 79 started for the Steelers for more than 1 year. That means only about 10% of the Steelers’ late round picks amounted to anything more than backups or special teams players.
But then again, once in a while you find that diamond in the rough. Whether he dropped because he went to a small school, or had behavior issues, or was just undersized and overlooked. These six players, for whatever reason, fell down the draft board until the Steelers were lucky (or savvy) enough to snatch them up.
6. Vince Williams, 6th round (206 overall), linebacker, Florida State
The scouting report on Williams coming out of college was basically that he was a two-down linebacker that didn’t have the foot speed to cover NFL tight ends. Not necessarily wrong, but Williams has had enough intangibles to earn 55 starts over seven years for the Steelers. The 2013 6th round choice out of Florida State started 11 games his rookie year before settling into a backup role until 2017 when he assumed the role of starter and put up eight sacks and 89 tackles (including 11 for loss). Williams started 14 games in 2018 but only eight in 2019 as he was supplanted by 1st round pick Devin Bush. Still a solid player when used correctly, he’s one just three linebackers left on the Steelers roster and it looks like he could be in for increased playing time this season. Pro Football Focus liked Williams enough to give him a 76.2 grade last season (for comparison, they gave Devin Bush a 62.9) so he must be doing something right.
5. Chris Kemoeatu, 6th round (204 overall), guard, Utah
The forgotten man on the Steelers Super Bowl winning (2008) and Super Bowl appearing (2010) offensive line. Kemoeatu was the team’s 2005 6th round pick out of Utah. The 344-pound guard played for seven years in the NFL, all with the Steelers, making 53 regular and 7 postseason starts. In 2011, Kemoeatu suffered kidney failure and had to have a transplant from his brother, Ma’Ake a Super Bowl winning defensive lineman with the Ravens. The operation ended both of their NFL careers.
4. William Gay, 5th round (170 overall), defensive back, Louisville
Part of a great 2007 draft class for the Steelers. After hitting a home run with Lawrence Timmons and Lamar Woodley in the 1st and 2nd rounds, the Steelers used their second 5th round pick on the slight 5’10” cornerback from the Louisville. Gay would never be a star in the league, but he was a very productive player for the Steelers (and for a year in Arizona). In his 11 year career, Gay started 102 games and had 13 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. Gay might be best remembered for his ridiculous 2014 season where he lead the league in defensive touchdowns by racking up three pick sixes.
3. Clark Haggans, 5th round (137 overall), linebacker, Colorado St.
We have to go all the way back to 2000 for this one. Clark Haggans fell down the board after posting some pretty bad combine numbers. His 40 time was 5.01, pretty abysmal for an outside linebacker. What Haggans did have was size, at 6-foot-4 and around 250 pounds, and after falling to the Steelers, turned out to be a very productive player. Although it took him four years to get here, Haggans eventually wrested the starting linebacker from Jason Gildon in 2003. Haggans started for the team from 2004-2007, helping them win Super Bowl XL before heading off to Steelers west, aka the Arizona Cardinals.
2. Brett Keisel, 7th round (242 overall), defensive end, BYU
Hitting on a 7th round selection is found money. In the 20 years of the Colbert era, only three 7th round picks have ended up as starters for the team (David Johnson and Kelvin Beachum are the others). The latest selection on this list, “The Beard” was a stalwart on the Steelers defensive line for 12 seasons and the team’s three Super Bowl appearances. An eight year starter, Keisel was never a superstar. He only made a single Pro Bowl (in 2010) but his steady work playing end in the Steelers 3-4 scheme was invaluable. Still a Pittsburgh institution, his work with Pittsburgh charities and his annual “Shear Da Beard” event make him one of the most popular ex-Steelers of the modern era.
1. Antonio Brown, 6th round (195 overall), wide receiver, Central Michigan
His legacy is irreparably damaged in Pittsburgh, but before his litany of off-the-field incidents there was nobody better at catching the ball than Antonio Brown. Recently named to the All-Decade team of the 2010s, Antonio Brown was sublimely talented, but ended up at Central Michigan instead of a Power 5 school because of character concerns. A 6th round pick in 2010, Brown didn’t become a full-time starter with the Steelers until his 4th year in the league, but his play from 2013-2018 was arguably the greatest six year stretch in the history of catching the ball. In those six seasons, Brown had 686 receptions, 9145 yards and 67 touchdowns, an average of 115 receptions, 11 touchdowns and over 1500 yards per year. Not too shabby for the 195th player out of 255 selected in the 2010 Draft.