The Pittsburgh Steelers are said to “love” Liberty quarterback Malik Willis—a sentiment that has triggered many Steelers fans, at least those old enough to remember Kordell Stewart’s quarterback play. If the Steelers do in fact draft Willis in round 1 this spring, it won’t be the only time the team has used a first-round pick on a Flames player. In 1990, the Steelers selected Liberty tight end Eric Green No. 21 overall, making him the second-to-last first-round pick of the Chuck Noll era.
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Eric Green: A ‘Draft Mistake’?
Green aggravated Noll by holding out until after the first game of the 1990 season, with the longtime Steelers head coach going so far as to say that signing Green would be a “waste of time,” as he wouldn’t be able to learn the offense in time to be of help as a rookie.
But at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, Green was a rare combination of size, speed and noticeably soft hands, not to mention physically larger than right tackle Tunch Ilkin, who typically lined up alongside him.
As it turns out, Green made an immediate impact as soon as he saw the field. He jump-started Joe Walton’s wretched Bubby Brister-led Steelers offense (no touchdowns in its first 46 possessions of the season!) by scoring five touchdowns in his first two NFL games, needing just seven receptions to do so.
Green—a native of Savannah, Ga.—went on to play a total of five seasons in Pittsburgh, making the Pro Bowl in both 1993 and 1994. All told, he started 50 of his 62 games with the Steelers and caught 198 passes for 2,681 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Yet he has been described as “a mistake as a draft pick and then a disappointment as a player” by Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. What can’t be ignored is how the Steelers traded down in the first round before selecting Green, allowing the Dallas Cowboys to grab future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith No. 17 overall.
After Green left Pittsburgh he played one season in Miami and three seasons in Baltimore before finishing his career with the New York Jets in 1999.
Liberty Flames Players in the NFL
Assuming Malik Willis is selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, he will be the ninth player ever drafted out of Liberty University, this according to Pro Football Reference.
The first time it happened was in 1985, when the Cleveland Browns took wide receiver Fred Banks in the eighth round (No. 203 overall). Banks played in the league until 1993, spending most of his career with the Dolphins.
Most recently, Washington drafted wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden in the fourth round in 2020 (No. 142 overall).
But Pittsburgh is the only NFL team to have ever used a first-round pick on a Liberty player. Making it easier for the Steelers to make such a selection was the fact that Green had been mentored by former Cleveland Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, who became the coach of the Flames prior to Green’s senior season. That year Green caught 62 passes for 905 yards and ten touchdowns and helped the program record its first-ever win over an FBS team (Eastern Michigan).
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