Steelers Draft Buzz

The Pittsburgh Steelers in Round 1 stuck to their ‘need board’ with the selection of outside linebacker T.J. Watt, while Rounds 2 and 3 of the draft saw Pittsburgh go with a mix of taking the best player available as was the case with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and needs in adding cornerback Cameron Sutton and running back James Conner in Round 3.

Drafting 30th overall is always unpredictable but the Steelers, notably head coach Mike Tomlin, were keen on adding a pass rusher whether they stood at 30th or moved back.

Even with the likes of Takk McKinley off the board, Steelers coaches loved McKinley, it was no surprise the Steelers selected Watt.

“He’s worthy of the pick,” Mike Tomlin said of Watt at No. 30. “Boy, we are excited about the potential upside and growth given the short length of time he’s played the position,” said Tomlin.

Tomlin called Watt “inexperienced” not “raw”, saying it’s an exciting element about Watt.

The questions with Watt who has a great work ethic and great bloodlines, is whether he was more of a scheme product at Wisconsin (some evalutors believe he is) than someone who’s going to be a special pass rusher at the NFL level.

“No reason he can’t be a significant player,” Colbert said. “He beats people with his upper body just as much as with his lower and usually you don’t see that type of hand usage and ‘know how’ in a one year player. That part was very attractive, and he’s a longer guy, so you have the hands and the feet and the length together, plus he’s pretty tenacious about it as well. It all worked for him last year and we just think it’ll work again.”

JuJu Smith-Schuster a Jarvis Landry Type?

In Round 2 the Steelers had USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as their top rated player on the board and they stuck to their philosophy of taking the best player available that they like to do after Round 1.

The noise has been there for days that the Steelers would consider a receiver early and the more intriguing development with the Smith-Schuster selection is the Steelers going with a more all-around receiver than a one trick pony who can run like with a Sammie Coates who coming in had trouble making 50-50 catches in college and a high drop rate when the Steelers took him in the third round in 2015.

Speaking of Coates, Mr. insecure Martavis Bryant didn’t take it well that the Steelers drafted a wide receiver in Round 2 as pundits were saying the selection was insurance for Bryant.

Smith-Schuster is a do it all receiver who caught 213 passes for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns at USC.

One Steelers source called Smith-Schuster a Jarvis Landry type receiver the Steelers lack but with better size than Landry. There’s also Anquan Boldin type comparisons out there.

Steelers coaches determined after the New England game, what this receiver group lacked most was players who could make combative 50-50 catches outside of Antonio Brown.

“He can play inside and outside,” Todd Haley said of Smith-Schuster. “If you had to say what he excelled at, I’d say his ability to catch the ball in combative situations, 50/50 balls as we call them and he usually comes down with them. He’s a really exciting guy and we are excited to get him here to work on.”

Haley also raved about Smith-Schuster only being 20 years old and there’s so much room to grow for him.

A common denominator with all four selections through the first two days is that the Steelers added guys who are regarded as having great character and who love the game.

“We’re talking about a young player who is just starting his career. I will say he is into football. He plays with great passion,” Haley said of Smith-Schuster. “He’s not a guy that’s afraid to stick his nose in there and block safeties and even some linebackers. He plays with a great passion, which is one of the exciting things about him,” said Haley.

Needs/High Character in Round 3

In Round 3, the Steelers went with two need positions, adding Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton and Pitt running back James Conner.

You always need cornerbacks in this league and Sutton while undersized a bit, at 5-11, has great cover ability that the Steelers are very excited about.

“Cameron is a press corner and plays close to the line of scrimmage but can also play off,” defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said. “He does a good job of mirroring the receiver. He stays close and that shows in his productivity as a corner for Tennessee over the years in his career. He is the all-time leader in passed defensed for Tennessee.”

Sutton a four year starter at Tennessee, had 37 passed defensed and 7 interceptions in his career. He also adds an option as a punt returner at the next level.

Another attribute the Steelers like, Sutton brings high leadership abilities to the table. He was a team-captain at Tennessee.

“Leadership is big,” said Lake. “We’re always looking for that. That means if he thinks of himself as a leader, he probably takes pride in his preparation and his communication skills, so that’s always helpful in the secondary.”

Is this selection bad news for Senquez Golson who the Steelers are said to not be counting on again?

The team wants to add more talent and competition to the cornerback group this summer. That has them also mulling the possibility of signing [hide] Keenan Lewis to a one year deal who is coming to town this weekend to be evaluated and could sign today.

— The big news for the Steelers at the end of Round 3 was selecting Pitt running back James Conner. It is something from a movie that Conner goes in the third round and to the Steelers of all teams.

Incredible story but this selection is all about Conner as the football player. That’s not to say the character he brings to the table wasn’t a factor but the Steelers are not taking him this high if they didn’t believe he couldn’t be an asset to their football team as a No. 2 back.

The guy can play and should give the Steelers a nice bruising type of element as a runner.

“What he does as a football player is what we want,” RB coach James Saxon said of Conner. “He runs the football downhill. He can bend, Obviously he can catch the football. He’s tough, he’s smart and he’s type of a guy that’s going to want to come in here and learn every day.”

The Steelers believe there’s also a lot of potential from Conner as a pass catcher out of the backfield. They took him in Round 3 because they project Conner being a very complementary to Le’Veon Bell and also someone who can handle a large work load if Bell gets injured or gets in more off field trouble.

Some believe Conner went a little too high but running back depth was a need and this is a safe pick. Someone the Steelers are really comfortable with and the tape shows, Conner is not likely going to be a great football player at the NFL level but he has a chance to be a good one.

The Steelers also considered QB Nate Peterman in Round 3.