The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't have an official general manager in the 1970s, but the scouting department was working serious overtime hours in 1974.
Pittsburgh isn't what it is today without the franchise's first five picks in that year's draft. Four of them are Hall of Famers. Many teams barely bat .500 on draft picks that show moderate success on the field. The Steelers batted .800 on Hall of Famers in the first five rounds.
The Steelers have had several impactful classes from the 1970s and a 1998 group that helped shape two Super Bowls in the 2000s.
But everything else pales in comparison to 1974.
Here's a look at that class.
Lynn Swann, WR, USC, first round, No. 21 overall: Swann looked the part of a first-rounder from Day 1. Heck, he still looks like one. Swann's body-contorting catch off a Mark Washington deflection in Super Bowl X was his quintessential moment as a pro. But Swann’s overall production in big games sets him apart. During a stretch of three Super Bowls from 1975-79, Swann averaged 121.3 receiving yards per game, scoring a touchdown in each of those victories, He doubled down in big moments, averaging 18.9 yards per catch in his playoff career. He was unstoppable in the 1978 playoffs with 13 catches, 274 receiving yards and three touchdowns in three games. The first receiver to win Super Bowl MVP was a worthy top pick.
Jack Lambert, linebacker, Kent State, second round, 46th overall: Unique instincts, relentless motor and menacing hits up the middle made Lambert one of the most feared players in franchise -- or even the game’s -- history. His edge on the field offset his 220-pound frame, considered skinny for a 6-foot-4 linebacker. He played with the edge of a top pick, which made him a steal in the second. Lambert racked up tackles in Super Bowls, but his best play might have come after the whistle -- when he threw Dallas’ Cliff Harris to the ground in Super Bowl X after Harris taunted Steelers kicker Roy Gerela. Lambert’s toss energized the Steelers, who won 21-17.
John Stallworth, wide receiver, Alabama A&M, fourth round, 82nd overall: For parts of his career, Stallworth was more productive on the field than Swann, posting three 1,000-yard seasons from 1979-84. But Swann was the marquee option when the Steelers’ Super Bowl run really took off. Stallworth had a combined five catches for 32 yards in Pittsburgh’s first two wins. But he exploded in Super Bowls XIII and XIV with back-to-back 100-yard games and a combined three touchdowns. A smooth receiver, he was one of Pittsburgh's most consistent players in an era of dominance.
Mike Webster, center, Wisconsin, fifth round, 125th overall: Iron Mike. Not much more needs to be said about Webster’s impact on Pittsburgh during four Super Bowl wins. Webster was an emotional leader for the offense and anchored a potent running attack. After the Steelers drafted him in 1974, Webster was an All-Pro recipient during the Steelers’ Super Bowl XIII and XIV runs. Webster was on the Steelers’ 75th anniversary all-time team and made the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his big-game performances.
Next-best Steelers draft class: The Mel Blount-Terry Bradshaw combo in 1970 was special, but as a nod to the modern Steelers, let's go 1998. Late first-round guard Alan Faneca is a future Hall of Famer and a 2000s all-decade recipient. Third-rounder Hines Ward out of Georgia will probably join the hall one day. Both players epitomized the toughness that defined the Steelers in Super Bowl 40 and 43 wins. And in the fourth round, the team found a productive defensive back in Deshea Townsend, who played 183 games with nearly 400 tackles and 21 interceptions for Pittsburgh. Townsend serves as the tiebreaker over 1970 here.