The Pick is In—And Momma Approves…
Apparently the Bengals’ sick need to stymie the Steelers at every turn has not been assuaged by the suspension of Vontaze Burfict. And as I think about it, why would it? It probably just made them even madder and more determined to get one up on their rival to the east.
And so they took the player everyone was saying the Steelers were totally enamored of, William Jackson III. It makes me wonder just how far the gamesmanship goes. Do the Steelers pick a player that seems to make sense for them and then appear to fall all over themselves in the hopes a rival will pick him up and leave free the guy they really want? Who knows? All I know is, they didn’t bring Artie Burns to Pittsburgh for a visit. (Mind you, they didn’t bring Jackson either. But they did spend a lot of time with him when they went out for his pro day.)
None of this matters at the moment. What matters is the guy they got. And I’m happy to see he was one of my final first round picks. So let’s take another brief look at him and see whether we can turn up anything else.
As many of you have probably figured out by now, my patented metric, Best-Looking Player available, is really as much about character as it is about looks. I hate to reveal my secret method here, but the truth is, all of these guys are impressive physical specimens, and if you search long enough you can find a reasonably good-looking picture of most all of them. What I want to know is, what kind of a Steeler are they going to turn out to be?
If I could actually answer that question, of course, I would be in constant demand as teams vied for the right to pay me vast sums of money to analyze the prospects. Neither immense talent nor seemingly sterling character necessarily translates to the exigencies of the pro game. But we can certainly look for indications.
Here’s what I wrote about Burns a week ago or so:
Burns is one of those “how did I miss this guy before” sort of guys. But the reason is, until very recently he’s been pretty far down the big boards, although this is changing.
He was mocked to the Steelers in Round 3 (by whom, I can’t remember, as I forgot to write it down) but Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis and Charles Casserly all have him going to the Steelers in the first round in their latest mocks. That’s some major movement up the board. This fansided article gives some reasons why:
Miami Hurricanes cornerback Artie Burns has Round 1 talent with a third-round projection. He was being projected as late as the fifth round, but he is slowly climbing draft boards. To say he’s a diamond in the rough would be an understatement.
Whoever grabs this kid is going to get an absolute steal. Burns is a supremely talented athlete, he was a four-star recruit both as a football and track star. At 6 foot tall and 193 pounds, he has ideal NFL size. Despite running a 4.46 40 at the combine, he’s widely considered faster than that and has unofficially timed much faster at “The U.” He also broke a 38-year-old American record, timing out at 7.68 seconds in the 60-yard hurdles under the age of 21 in 2014 and was a three-time state 3A 110 hurdle champion in Florida.
The author indicates that he is raw, not a proficient tackler, and will need a lot of “coaching up” in the NFL. But against that he puts:
In 2015, Burns led the entire ACC with six interceptions and despite his poor tackling technique, he’s actually excellent at sniffing out ball-carriers. He has an innate ability to sneak by blockers and get to the quarterback on corner blitzes or running backs in the rushing attack.
In press coverage he gets physical and extends his long arms and has the straight line speed to run with just about anybody.
When you combine that with his superior ball skills, how do you pass on this guy three times? Don’t be shocked if he’s a high-end cornerback-1 by the time his rookie contract expires. His upside is immense.
His story will tug at your heartstrings as well, as he said when declaring for the draft:
“Due to my mom’s sudden passing [she died of a heart attack last year] and my father being incarcerated, I now have custody of my two younger brothers and my son to raise. It is my responsibility to be the financial supporter my family needs to continue our day-to-day lives,” Burns said. “Also, playing in the National Football League has always been a dream of mine and I believe the time to pursue this dream is now. I feel I am mentally and physically ready. Now that the time has come for me to take the next step in my journey, I will come back to complete my degree from this prestigious university.”
NFL.com rates him at 5.91, and notes:
Burns has been as successful a two-sport athlete as any football player has been in the last 20 years. He came to “The U” with a pedigree on the football field and the track, earning four-star recruit status while winning a state title in the 110 meter hurdles three times during his high school career (he had the top 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles times in the nation in his junior year). Burns translated that dual success in high school to the Hurricanes, winning All-American and All-Conference honors as a hurdler for the track and field squad and becoming one of the top corners in the ACC. Burns played in a reserve role as a freshman in 2013 (17 tackles, two sacks, three pass breakups) before becoming a starter in his sophomore year (40 tackles, six pass breakups). He flourished in 2015, intercepting six passes (most by a Miami player since Sean Taylor had 10 in 2003) and breaking up five others on his way to consensus second-team All-ACC honors. Unfortunately, Burns also suffered a great loss during his junior year, losing his mother after she suffered a heart attack. Since his father has been incarcerated for some time, the University of Miami started a donation fund to help his family get through the rough period — they raised $40,000 in six hours. It was not surprising, therefore, that he wanted to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft as an early entrant.
While his tape is average and technique can be nonexistent at times, NFL teams often draft on traits at the cornerback spot and assume that coaching will take care of the rest. Burns has length, speed, ball skills and abundant potential. Keep in mind he was limited in his growth at the position thanks to a spring track schedule, but he is still in the infant stages of reaching his pro potential.
That’s actually a lot of information to chew on. But a recent Miami Herald article, written after I did my research, makes me even more excited about this pick. Here are some of the highlights of Susan Degman’s article:
“Artie will blossom and be one of the great cornerbacks in the NFL,’’ said Miami native and six-time world track and field champion Bershawn Jackson, the 2008 Beijing Olympic bronze medalist in the 400-meter hurdles and gold medalist as a member of the U.S. 1600-meter relay. “I’ve known Artie since he was a baby and I was really good friends with Dana. [Burn’s mother.]
“My dad was my best friend and he died of a massive heart attack Oct. 10. A week after his funeral they called me to say Dana died. Like my dad, she was the centerpiece of their lives — didn’t miss one game, one track meet, one school event. I reached out to Artie as soon as it happened. I told him to grieve and then be at peace. He said, ‘I’m going to take care of my little brothers, because that’s what my mama would want me to do.’ ’’
Burns, a Miami Northwestern High graduate and state hurdles champion, will turn 21 Sunday.
There’s a lot of footbally stuff in the article. But it’s paragraphs like this one that really get my attention, and make me wonder whether he has been on the Steelers’ radar for a while:
…at least one NFL team, a source said, has already researched schools for siblings Thomas and Jordan should Artie be selected by that franchise. They now live together in a Miami apartment, with Burns driving the boys back and forth to separate schools and often attending practices — Thomas is a sophomore Northwestern football and track star already orally committed to UM and Jordan plays youth football and runs for the Northwest Express Track Club.
“Artie is a level-headed, caring young man,’’ said Barbara Cason, his grandmother who lives in Miramar with her husband John. “He’s very quiet, but driven. The grace of God has carried him through. The boys will finish the school year here. They’re a little nervous, but he’s their big brother and they look up to him.’’
When you consider that Burns has not had a father in his life for most of it—he hasn’t seen his father since he was in fourth grade—it’s all the more praiseworthy that he takes his responsibilities so seriously.
As his close friend and now agent Melvin Bratton said:
Artie has stepped up. He became a man overnight.’
NFL franchises preparing to spend several million dollars on a rookie cornerback want to know if Artie Burns can handle the pressure of professional football.“Every team asks me about it,” Burns said. “That’s a big concern — to see if I’m mentally stable.”
If what he’s endured to this point hasn’t broken the ex-University of Miami star, it’s hard to believe anything can…
“I just have to make sure I don’t let anybody down,” said Burns, who turns 21 on May 1. “That will keep me going. That’s why I’m still doing what I’ve got to do, day by day.”
And I’ll end with this, from the same article:
Former UM interim coach Larry Scott, who now coaches tight ends at Tennessee, was struck by how Burns, a “quiet person, not a big talker,” stood and addressed more than two dozen teammates and coaches — Scott and Golden among them — who gathered by Smith’s bedside.
“He showed me that night there was so much more to him than being a really good player,” Scott said this week. “He showed me an internal strength that gave me no doubt that whatever he sets his mind to, he’s going to be ultra, ultra-successful.”
I don’t know whether Burns qualifies at this point as a “pony” in Homer J.’s lexicon. What I’m hoping is that the pick who three weeks ago would have been considered a huge reach at No. 25 will indeed turn out to be “the steal of the draft.”