PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers just added a bruising running back — and a great story — to their NFL draft stable.
Pitt’s James Conner, who captivated college football by overcoming a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015, was selected by the Steelers in the third round with the 105th overall pick.
At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Conner returned to the lineup with 16 touchdowns last season. He inspired Pitt teammates by joining them in morning workouts while undergoing chemotherapy. He says he’s cancer-free now.
“It’s a dream come true,” Conner said from a Buffalo Wild Wings in his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. “They gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and they are going to get a hard worker and a great football player.”
Conner believed his game tape was “up there with the best of the best,” so after seven running backs were drafted before him, he admittedly wondered whether his medical history made some teams hesitant.
Not the Steelers, who now have a big back to complement starter Le’Veon Bell.
Running backs coach James Saxon made it clear this is not a sentimental pick. He hopes defenders are sentimental about Conner, who will proceed to run over them.
“I looked at the tape, and the tape told me what he was,” Saxon said. “He runs the football downhill, he can bend, he can catch the football. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s a guy who will come here and work every day.”
Conner becomes the Steelers’ first Pitt draftee since cornerback Hank Poteat in the third round of the 2000 draft. Conner joins an impressive lineage of Pitt tailbacks in the NFL, including LeSean McCoy, Curtis Martin, Craig Heyward and Tony Dorsett.