Evaluating the Steelers’ 2016 Draft Picks: CB Artie Burns

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via Steelers.com

During the run up to the 2016 draft I wrote a series of posts considering the young men the Steelers might have available to them on draft night. I’ve been doing this for the past six years now, and this is the very first time that pretty much everyone agreed on what position should be addressed in the first round.

Thus I made a pretty thorough survey of the defensive backs who might possibly be available at No. 25. I didn’t bother with Jalen Ramsey, as the chances of him falling that far were practically non-existent. But I looked at everyone else who was being projected as a first round or high second round pick. Artie Burns was not among them.

Then a cloud no larger than a man’s hand appeared on the horizon. As I was working on the Day Three picks Burns’ name surfaced. I have seldom seen so much movement “up the board” so quickly, so close to the date of the actual draft.

So I had a look, and I liked what I saw. So much so, in fact, that he was my alternate first-round pick. Here’s a summary of what I wrote at the time

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…He was mocked to the Steelers in Round 3 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 admitted Burns is “very raw.” His NFL.com draft profile was more blunt—”his tape is average and technique can be non­existent at times.” Nonetheless, like the fansided author, who felt Burns’ upside is “immense,” the NFL writer said “Burns has length, speed, ball skills and abundant potential.”

Apparently the Steelers agreed. Roger Goodell barely had time to walk off the stage after announcing the Bengals’ pick—of the guy most people thought the Steelers wanted, William Jackson III—before he had to turn around and announce the Steelers’ pick. Apparently it came in seconds after the Steelers were on the clock. If they were heartbroken by the loss of Jackson they hid it pretty well.

Burns not only has “abundant potential” but a story which tugs at your heartstrings. As he said when declaring early 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.”

The story is more complex than it appears at first glance. Although Burns’ father is incarcerated, it isn’t the seemingly typical story of an unsatisfactory and mainly absent father who then disappears for good. In many ways, that would probably have been easier for the 11-year old Burns to process. A Jeremy Fowler article last week on ESPN goes into detail:

Artie Tyrone Burns Sr. and Dana Smith fell in love at Miami (Fla.) Northwestern High, got married and had three boys together. Every weekend in the fall, they would drive their oldest son to football games at the Southwest Boys and Girls Club. Burns played linebacker and running back for his dad, the head coach. Dana was the team mom. They’d stay at the field all afternoon, then cap off the day with a pizza trip…

With a stable home life and a quality outlet in football, Burns was a happy kid.

“I was young, but I was able to catch the stuff they did, the way they interacted,” Burns said of his parents. “It helps me now with this whole transformation I have to do. They never said a bad word about anybody.”

The “transformation” Burns spoke of is that of becoming the sole support for an instant family—his two younger brothers, who he took on after his mother’s death last year, and the one-year old son he has with his long-time girlfriend Ella.

Now that he has a contract he’s moving them all to Pittsburgh. (He spent part of his time during the past month researching schools for his brothers.) He made a promise to his mother on her deathbed that he would raise them, and he’s clearly intent on doing so.

The Steelers knew about this well before the draft. After interviewing Burns in the run-up to the draft, GM Kevin Colbert was quoted as saying he was a “special kid.” According to Burns’ agent, Mike Tomlin told him that if Burns was there, he was Tomlin’s guy. As Fowler reports, Bratton [said agent] has heard such statements in the past, but believed it of Tomlin. As he said:

He knew this kid’s story and wanted to be in his life to help him. For him to want to take this kid on, it’s like an uncle figure.

While reading up on Burns I ran across an item stating “an AFC North team has been looking into schools for Burns’ brothers.” Can there be any doubt it was the Steelers?

Burns not only feels the weight of the responsibility of his family but the weight of the expectations of Steeler Nation. The Steelers took what he knows is a risk by choosing him, and he apparently has every intention of making sure they don’t regret it. As he told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com:

“I am playing for the team, for the city. I want to please everybody in the building, and please everybody in the city. We want the fans out there standing on their feet.”

Burns is hoping to translate his success at Miami to the NFL and plans on giving everything to a team he always enjoyed watching play.

“They’re known as a tough defense,” said Burns. “I’m that kind of guy. I’ve been watching the Steelers defense since I was young. That’s always been my team since I was young. I always idolized them, year in and year out.”

Obviously it’s early days, but so far Carnell Lake likes what he’s seeing:

“I think Artie is progressing very well,” said Lake. “He has a mentality that he wants to be there and be productive and do things that we want him to do. And if he’s doesn’t get it, he wants more reps at it, which is a good sign.”

You can’t ask for more than that. It is going to be fascinating to watch this already very mature young man mature as a football player. Training camp can’t get here soon enough!

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