When it comes to a Pittsburgh Steelers draft, they have a habit of doing what is best for them, not what is expected of them, and for the most part, they are usually right. If Thursday night’s edition of the NFL draft showed us anything, it’s that Steelers GM Kevin Colbert understands more than any of the thousands of other Steelers GM’s, who were watching at home, is that he needs to keep adding weapons to an already dangerous offense, while at the same time, helping an ever improving defense to catch up. It is a proven fact that defenses win championships, but when you have an offense with the weapons that Colbert has given the Steelers, one that is starting to look like it will be able to put up basketball points, well, that is another way to help a young defense out until all of its pieces are in place.
Through the first three rounds, the Steelers have added two key elements to the defense that fill critical needs, an explosive pass rusher with a huge upside, OLB T.J. Watt (Wisconsin), and a versatile slot corner, who can line up outside, at safety, and return punts, CB Cameron Sutton (Tennessee). To balance out the two pieces they have added on defense, the Steelers gave Todd Haley two more toys to play with, WR JuJu Smith-Shuster (USC), and RB James Conner (Pitt), both of whom have first round talent. JuJu was an unexpected surprise in the second round, while Conner’s selection seemed to come straight from a Hollywood movie script.
I’m not sure who was happier about the Steelers landing the Pitt running back, James Conner himself, Arthur Moats who got to announce it, or Steelernation, but either way, the selection of Conner made the second evening of the 2017 NFL Draft a night to remember.
2nd Rd: JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR-USC)
JuJu Smith-Schuster, the youngest player in the draft, gives the Steelers the physical wide receiver they have lacked since Hines Ward retired. JuJu, who has been compared to Wars and Anquan Boldin, takes just as much pride in his blocking, as he does making plays with the ball. The versatile receiver is just as dangerous in the slot as he is outside, and at 6’1″/215 lbs, gives Ben Roethlisberger another big target to get the ball to. With a little work on his route running, and learning how to better set up receivers, JuJu Smith-Shuster should quickly become a contributer in an offense full of weapons. Check out this letter from Smith-Schuster.
3rd Rd: Cameron Sutton (CB-Tenn)
A need many thought would be filled in the second round was addressed in the third, which is where the Steelers selected slot cornerback Cameron Sutton from Tennessee. Sutton, who can line up outside as well as at safety, provides the Steelers with a cornerback who can play press-man opposite of Artie Burns. Carnell Lake has praised Sutton’s ability to mirror the receiver he is covering, and the make-up speed he possesses when a receiver gets behind him. Criticized for having short arms and small hands, Sutton is Tennessee’s career leader in passes deflected and allowed only three touchdown passes during his four years. He also finished his Vol’s career with a 14.6 yard punt return average, with three of his returns going for touchdowns.
3rd Rd Comp: James Conner (RB-Pitt)
The perfect ending to the second night of the draft came when Arthur Moats read off James Conner’s name as being the Steelers third round compensatory pick. While Conner’s selection feels like a fairy tale ending to his college career, considering what he has been through, make no mistake about it, the Steelers wanted no other running back in the draft than the one who spent the last four years on the other side of the wall at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Conner gives the Steelers the perfect complimentary back to LeVeon Bell with his combination of size, speed, and ability to catch the ball.
James Conner also provides the Steelers with the quality of a feature back should LeVeon Bell be lost to injury for any length of time. Following a career where he rushed for almost 4,000 yards and scoring 56 touchdowns while at Pitt, Conner would more than likely have been a starter had anyone else drafted him, but by his reaction to hearing his name being called by the Steelers, that meant more to him than anything. His addition to the Steelers offense gives Todd Haley the flexibility to have both Bell and Conner on the field at the same time, providing him with options that were previously unavailable, making the offense much more dangerous.
The second day of the draft has to be considered a success for the Steelers. Not only did they fill some more critical needs with quality talent, but they set themselves up to draft for depth with their last four picks. Who knows, maybe they will add to the all of the unpredictability of this years draft, by acquiring some extra picks in this and next year’s draft, offered by some team desperate to move up at some point today. Whether that happens or not, the Steelers created one of the most memorable moments in NFL Draft history last night, and in the process, they put themselves in a much better position to be two games better in 2017.