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Sometimes, size (of the school) matters

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John Mitchell was pleased enough about the Steelers' first three draft picks coming from the SEC that he was gladly willing to overlook the fact none of them were products of his beloved alma mater.

"Alabama can't supply everybody," the Steelers' assistant head coach maintained, "(but that said), I love SEC football players."

The Steelers clearly do, too.

First-round pick Bud Dupree (linebacker, Kentucky), No. 2 selection Senquez Golson (cornerback, Mississippi) and No. 3 choice Sammie Coates (wide receiver, Auburn) are the latest examples of the high regard the Steelers have for SEC players.

The trend toward big-school draftees continued last weekend with the selections of cornerback Doran Grant (fourth round, Ohio State) and tight end Jesse James (tight end, Penn State) out of the Big Ten.

The only relative exception in a draft class that also included two players from the ACC (No. 6b pick Anthony Chickillo, outside linebacker, Miami; and No. 7 pick Gerod Holliman, safety, Louisville) was No. 6a choice L.T. Walton (defensive lineman, Central Michigan).

And in Walton's case, even though the MAC might not be the SEC, it's certainly not the Patriot League.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course, as the Steelers are well aware. But they're likewise aware of the advantages players possess when they come from a big-school background.

"There are a lot of guys from a lot of small schools who play well," Mitchell maintained. "But when you play against top-notch competition week in and week out it makes you a better football player because you're going to see a lot more things."

Conversely, what players have shown against that top-notch competition has a tendency to resonate.

Consider defensive backs coach Carnell Lake's assessment of Grant: "He played at a very high level on a national championship team."

Consider, also, what helped attract General Manager Kevin Colbert to Coates: "When I see Sammie Coates running through SEC secondaries and catching touchdown passes and adjusting to under-throws, showing he has the ability to adjust to a ball behind, that's all a plus."

Added Lake: "Normally I wouldn't mention it because there are players who come from a lot of different schools, different programs and competition levels who have made it here in the NFL and with the Steelers. In this sense, a cornerback who has matched up with some top-notch programs has seen a lot of receivers who have gone, probably, in the first, second or third round."

The "week in, week out" aspect of such matchups Mitchell referenced makes big-school products all the more attractive and more prepared, potentially.

"We bring in a couple guys and it's a thrill to see that we're taking guys from a conference where you've got to be hard-nosed," he said. "You're got to play the run, you've got to play the pass and play good football teams every week. So a lot of times when those guys come into the NFL, they know what it takes.

"You're going to play a tough team every week, and you have to be prepared. If you have a big win or a big loss, you can't linger and cry because next week another big team is going to be there."

Photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Draft Class.

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