By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are hopeful that huge tight end Jesse James from Penn State, whom they chose in the fifth round Saturday, turns out better than the last one they selected from the Nittany Lions.
Matt Kranchick, who is similar in size to James, went to the Steelers in the sixth round during the 2004 NFL Draft, had just one catch for six yards in eight NFL games from 2004-06. He played for the Steelers from 2004-05 and also played for the New York Giants in 2005 and New England Patriots in 2006.
James, who is from Pittsburgh suburb Glassport and South Allegheny High School, caught 38 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns this past season. He was used more as a blocker, but Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel believed just for his size alone, the 6-foot-7, 261-pound could be a big red-zone threat.
"He's a guy with great length, (and) he has natural strength to be able to handle the line of scrimmage,'' Daniel said. "He wasn't used a lot as a receiver, (but) he has good strength to block at the line of scrimmage (and) I would think any guy who's 6-7 should be a good red-zone threat.''
Both Daniel and James believed the player was underutilized as a receiver for the Nittany Lions, and Daniel added that nothing seen on video or in person would indicate that James can't become a good NFL receiver. Daniel said he has the talent to be good in all phases of the game.
"In the system we ran, I didn't have a chance to show the type of receiver I was, but I have a shot to do that in the future and show what I can do,'' James said. "The way I can move my body and with my size, the red zone is an area where you want guys with measurables like me.''
James started every game the past two seasons at Penn State and even six as a freshman in 2012 after being an early enrollee and going through spring practice earlier that year. With continued good work habits and improvement in receiving, James could challenge Matt Spaeth for the backup tight end roll and certainly be a strong successor to Heath Miller.
"I think it's a great fit for me, and coming to Pittsburgh ... I couldn't be more excited to come home and get in there and go to work,'' James said. "So, I'm happy to get back home and play for my hometown team.
"(And) I couldn't be more excited to get in the tight ends room with Heath Miller and learn from him and watch him practice. He's is a guy I've watched film on through last year, and I'm just trying to learn his game and how he goes about things. So, he's going to be a great guy to learn from.''
The last South Allegheny High School player taken in the NFL Draft by the Steelers was linebacker Ron Crosby. He also played at Penn State and was drafted during the fifth round in 1977.