The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

It Has to Be Mean Joe

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The single best defensive draft pick in NFL history? Tough to quantify. But I think it could be argued that the most important defensive draft pick occurred in 1969, when a horrible Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, led by new head coach Chuck Noll, selected North Texas State defensive tackle Joe Greene with the fourth overall pick. In 1968, the Steelers finished 2-11-1, and it was the team's fifth straight losing season. Bringing Noll on board was a crucial choice, but the Greene pick was just as valuable. A Pittsburgh newspaper lead with the headline, "Who's Joe Greene?" the day after the pick. It wouldn't be long before everyone in America knew who "Mean Joe" was.

Three more losing seasons followed as Noll and the Rooney family put a new team together. Once that had happened, the best defense in NFL history was led by Greene as the league's most dominant defensive player. Everything about that defense sprang from Greene's amazing skill. Fellow linemen Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, and L.C. Greenwood were able to find lanes to attack enemy offenses because Greene required at least a double-team on each play. Their amazing linebackers were allowed to roam inside and outside because Greene held the point so well. And with all that pressure up front, the team's secondary had a great advantage. In 1976, the Steelers' defense posted five shutouts in a 14-game season. As far as I'm concerned, that's the most amazing team statistic in NFL history.

Four Super Bowl championships, ten Pro Bowl trips, five first-team All-Pro nominations, and two Defensive Player of the Year titles later, Greene found himself inducted into both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. His famous Coke commercial gave important face time to a defensive player in a way that hadn't happened since the days of Dick Butkus and Sam Huff. Without him, the Steel Curtain would not have been what it was -- on and off the field. And when you're the epicenter of football's greatest all-time defense, it makes sense that you're also football's greatest defensive draft pick.

By Doug Farrar  |  April 10, 2009; 9:32 AM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , Draft , NFL , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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