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Steelers second day of draft highlighted by third-round pick James Conner

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The Steelers added three more players in the NFL Draft's second and third round, including local hero James Conner out of Pitt.

PITTSBURGH—Draftniks felt the Steelers needed to pick a cornerback in the second round, but head coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert, and company picked 6-1, 215 wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster from USC with the thirtieth pick in the round, 62 overall.

He is known as a possession receiver with good hands rather than a deep threat, as he lacks break-away speed. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is looking forward to helping develop the new draft pick as Smith-Schuster is one of the youngest players in the draft.

“He has good size, very productive, can play inside, outside. He has the ability to catch the ball in combative situations where he usually comes down with the ball,” Haley said. “He’s passionate. You can see it on the tape. He’s a smart kid who can play inside or outside.”

Haley also likes Smith-Schuster’s toughness.

“He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there and mix it up,” Smith-Schuster said. “Part of what makes our run game going is someone out there making blocks. We’re trying to find good players to elevate the competition even more.”

Smith-Schuster was just as excited when he got the phone call from the Steelers, although he was a bit surprised since he had very little contact with Pittsburgh before the draft.

“It’s a blessing. When your name finally gets called, it’s tough,” Smith-Schuster said. “I only had one meeting with [the Steelers]. It was at the combine. I want to learn as a young dude coming up. I’ll do anything possible to help the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl.”

He played three seasons at for the Trojans and had 213 catches (fourth all-time at USC) for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also returned 16 kickoffs for 185 yards. He appeared in all 40 games, starting 39, and had at least one catch in every game.

Cornerback was one position the Steelers needed to address in this draft and they did just that in the third round by picking 5-11, 188 Cameron Sutton from Tennessee with the ninety-fourth overall pick.

“[Sutton] is a press corner that can play close to the line of scrimmage and he can play off. He’s the all-time pass-defender at Tennessee. He was available and we took him,” Lake said. “For us to be versatile as a defense, we’re going to instill a little more man this year. We believe Sutton will help us in that area.”

Lake feels Sutton should be an asset on the field and off.

“The more versatile he is, the quicker he can get on the field. I would consider him a true corner at this point,” Lake said. “Leadership is big for him. He takes pride in his communication skills.”

Sutton is looking forward to playing wherever the Steelers need him.

“I don’t have a preference at all. I’ll play inside or outside, wherever they need me,” Sutton said. “I’m very comfortable playing man [defense]. I did that in college.”

Sutton had 127 tackles (111 solo), 13 tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and seven interceptions at Tennessee. He also returned 45 punts for 657 yards and three touchdowns. He graduated from Tennessee with a degree in communications.

The biggest surprise of the night came with the Steelers’ last pick of the third round, which was with their compensatory pick at number 105. They chose hometown boy James Conner, the running back from Pitt who beat cancer and returned to the football field. The last time the Steelers drafted a Pitt player was cornerback Hank Poteat 17 years ago.

Steelers running back coach James Saxon stressed that picking Conner was not a sentimental pick, but rather what they believe is a solid pick for their needs.

“He’s an excellent football player, a hard worker. He’s a downhill, Pittsburgh Steelers type runner. We bumped into him coming off the practice field,” Saxon said. “James is a great guy. What he does as a football player is what we want.”

Conner could not have been more excited after getting the phone call from the Steelers, especially since he was hoping to get drafted.

“This is a dream come true. I’m forever grateful to be given the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m going to give my all to [the Steelers],” Conner said. “I’m right back at Heinz Field. The city [of Pittsburgh] has been great to me. I was getting a little antsy, but it’s Steeler Nation. I’m coming home.”

The draft continues on Saturday at noon.

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