With the NFL Draft fast-approaching, you’re bound to find many “all-time draft-busts” articles popping up. And I guess if you find this piece, you’ll uncover another one (albeit under the neatly re-packaged title of “least productive”).
Why did I choose 1980 as a starting point for this piece on Steelers’ unproductive first round draft picks? For one thing, that year was an important turning-point in the franchise’s history, as the dynasty days of the 1970s were quickly fading into the back-drop, along with the drafting success of the late 60s and early 70s that made those Pittsburgh teams so Super.
Secondly, it’s the year that I first started following the Steelers on a regular-basis, and I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the results of every single team draft (and first round bust) since then.
I’ll list my 10 least-productive starting with the least of the least-productive first round picks (make sense?) to the most least-productive first round picks.
After you read this, feel free to openly agree or disagree and share your own thoughts and memories. Be sure to check back tomorrow (4/23/14) for Part 2.
Let’s begin, shall we?
No. 10: Quarterback Mark Malone, Arizona St., 1980 (28th and final pick, Round 1)
It might be a bit controversial to have Malone so low on a least-productive first round draft pick list, but despite the fact that he wasn’t Terry Bradshaw, and despite the fact that he was one of the most reviled passers in team history, Malone’s productivity was such that his inclusion so far down this list is justified.
As his wikipedia page points out, Malone passed for over 8500 yards in eight seasons with the Steelers (four as their primary starting quarterback), and he led them to the 1984 AFC Title game against Miami. Sure, there were those 51 touchdown passes to 68 interceptions (he only threw more touchdowns to INTs once), but he was far from the biggest bust since 1980 (perhaps, a scary thought).
All joking aside, Malone was a marvelous athlete coming out of college (for years, he held the record for the Steelers longest touchdown reception, when he pulled in a 90 yard score from Bradshaw against Seattle in Week 10 of the 1981 season), who perhaps got caught in the under-current of the 1980s post-Super Bowl malaise the franchise quickly found itself in.
No. 9: Running back Walter Abercrombie, Baylor, 1982 (12th pick, Round 1)
With the legendary Franco Harris in the final years of his Hall of Fame career, it made sense to draft a running back in round one in 1982 (exactly a decade after Harris was picked in the first round), but Abercrombie never came close to filling Harris’s rather large shoes.
In five seasons in Pittsburgh, Abercrombie gained only 3357 yards and scored just 22 touchdowns. Fullback Frank Pollard (an 11th round pick in 1980), proved to be a more productive back and a better value for his draft position, racking up nearly 4000 yards in nine seasons with the Steelers. (Side note: Rumor has it that had Marcus Allen, the Heisman Trophy winning running back from USC, also been available at the 12th pick, the legendary Chuck Noll may still have gone with Abercrombie.)