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Steelers day three selections include Penn State's James

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South Allegheny graduate joins Ohio State corner on draft's final day

PITTSBURGH—The Steelers lost out on picking a tight end Friday night when the Baltimore Ravens snuck in one pick ahead (via a trade with Arizona) and grabbed Maxx Williams, who was considered the best tight end in the draft. 

They re-addressed the tight end issue Saturday afternoon by choosing 6-7, 267 lb. Penn State’s Jesse James in the twenty-fourth pick of the fifth round (160 overall). James is a Pittsburgh native (Glassport) and attended South Allegheny High School.

“I couldn’t be happier. I think it’s a great fit [being drafted by the Steelers],” James said. “I didn’t get caught up with the [draft] rounds. I’m happy to head back home and get to work and make the most of it.”

James started every game the last two seasons. His career totals include 78 catches for 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns, the most by a tight end in Penn State history. He earned all-Big Ten honors last season and was on the mid-season Mackey Award Watch list. 

He feels he has the ability to excel at the next level even though his college stats at Penn State may not have shown that. He left Penn State as a junior to enter the NFL Draft.

“I think with the system we ran at Penn State, I didn’t have the chance to show how athletic I am,” James said. “I think I’m ready to show what I can do in the receiving game and I can be a threat in the red zone with my measurables.”

Steelers tight end coach James Daniel expanded on James’ talents and abilities.

“He played a lot of football [at Penn State]. We had a good evaluation on him and we liked his talent. We think he was happy to get the call [from an NFL team] at this point [in the draft] and he was excited [when the Steelers called],” Daniel said. “He has natural strength at the line of scrimmage. We feel good about his strengths and think he can make the tough catch.”

The Steelers were thorough in analyzing James in the pre-draft process. He visited the facility and they also scouted him at Penn State during the school’s pro day.

“When I visited the Steelers, it was a great experience for me to get to speak to the coaches and get a good feel for them,” James said. “I’m excited to get back and play for the home team.”

The Steelers started out Saturday by going back to a position of need and picked what was considered one of the best cornerback left on the board by grabbing 5-10, 200 lb. Ohio State cornerback and Akron native Doran Grant with the twenty-second pick of the fourth round (121 overall).

Grant played in 54 games, starting 30. He had 146 tackles 9110 solo), nine interceptions, a sack, four tackles-for-loss, and 20 pass break-ups. He earned first team all-Big Ten honors this past season and was voted a co-captain.

“I actually grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan but I know about the history and the championship culture at Pittsburgh,” Grant said. “The Steelers talked to me about the corner position. I feel like I can tackle well.”

Steelers defensive back coach Carnell Lake expanded on Grant’s abilities and athleticism.

“He’s a solid player, has good speed, he’s a tough player. He can make tackles and help out on special teams,” Lake said. “He played as a true freshman and played at a very high level. Normally I wouldn’t mention that he went to a big school, but he has matched up with some top notch programs and faced some of the best players around.”

Grant will feel at home in Pittsburgh as former Buckeyes Cam Heyward and Mike Adams are already on the team. He also commented on Ohio State’s national championship run.

“Cameron Heyward just sent me a text congratulating me. I also talked to Mike Adams too, there’s definitely a buckeye connection,” Grant said right after being picked by the Steelers. “We believed in each other so much, there was no way we weren’t going to get the job done.”

Because of his size and strength and strong tackling ability, there is a possibility Grant could transition to safety in the future if needed. Lake explained that with both Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retiring, the Steelers needed to stock up on defensive backs.

“A lot of who we pick has to do with who’s available. We have some holes to fill and we’re aggressively doing that,” Lake said. “You have to be pretty high up on the list to get a guy that has everything you’re looking for.”

Pittsburgh had two selections in the sixth-round: defensive end Leterrius Walton of Central Michigan and Miami linebacker Anthony Chickillo.

In the seventh round, the Steelers added safety Gerod Hollman of Louisville.

Steelers general manger Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin recapped the draft after the seventh round Saturday afternoon. Colbert said after the team drafted eight players during the draft, the team will now look to sign ten to twelve free agents to add to the camp roster.

“We said we would probably come out of this with six defensive players and two offensive players and that’s what happened. We knew we had more holes to fill on defense with our roster,” Colbert said. “When it was close [who was better, the defensive or offensive player], we took the defensive player, when it was obvious [who the best player was] we took the offensive player.”

Colbert feels the roster should improve with the influx of the drafted players plus free agent signees.

“We tried to pick players who had a chance to make the team,” Colbert said. “We have 47 guys back from last year’s team, plus De’Angelo Williams, so that’s 48 guys. We hope this group of eight and our free agent class will help us be a better team.”

When analyzing the players the Steelers drafted, Tomlin said the coaches looked at productivity to judge the players rather than the measurable such as height and combine performance.

“None of the players are a finished product,” Tomlin said. “We’ll put them in camp, get them in our culture, and put them in a position to show what they’re capable of.”

He addressed the concern that the cornerbacks the Steelers drafted are on the short side.

“What [the players] have above the neck allows them to excel,” Tomlin said. “Both [cornerbacks] are good football players. We were interested in tangible evidence.”

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