Character (Ac)Counts: CB Artie Burns



I’ll admit it. When I began my Momma’s Mock Drafts scouting process, Artie Burns wasn’t even on my radar. But by the time I put together the final seven-round draft, Burns had moved up from being projected to go in the third round or so, due to the obvious rawness of his technique, to being projected to go in the first round. Which, of course, he did.

And I will freely admit he wasn’t my first choice—I picked Mackensie Alexander or William Jackson, whichever one was still on the board, and put Burns as my choice if they were both gone. Jackson was famously picked by the Bengals one pick before the Steelers could choose, and the conspiracy theories ran rampant. Alexander was, despite his assertion he was the best cornerback in the class, taken in the 2nd round by the Vikings.

And although it isn’t the focus of this article, it is interesting to see how everyone has done, so I’ll get that out of the way first. I’ll cover all the guys taken between Jalen Ramsey and Alexander.

Here are the guys:

  • Jalen Ramsey: No. 5, Jacksonville
  • Eli Apple: No. 10, New York Giants
  • Vernon Hargreaves: No. 11, Tampa Bay
  • William Jackson: No. 24, Bengals
  • Artie Burns: No. 25, Steelers
  • Xavien Howard: No. 38, Dolphins
  • Mackensie Alexander: No. 54, Vikings

Here’s how they’ve done, according to Pro Football Focus (grades are out of 100, followed by ranking among all corners:)

  • Jalen Ramsey: 66.0; No. 79
  • Eli Apple: 72.2; No. 67
  • Vernon Hargreaves: 61.7; No. 83
  • William Jackson: On IR
  • Artie Burns: 74.5; No. 62
  • Xavien Howard: 50.4; No. 95
  • Mackensie Alexander: 47.3; [no ranking, which means he hasn’t played enough snaps to qualify]

So at the moment, at any rate, PFF (who declared Alexander to be the steal of the draft back in April) thinks Artie Burns is currently the best of the lot. It hasn’t always been thus, of course—his play has improved every week. But this is probably true of all of them—they are rookies, after all.

So on to Artie Burns the man. As I noted in my assessment of him in April, has story tugs at your heartstrings:

“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.”

Burns became the sole support for an instant family—his two younger brothers, who he promised his mother on her deathbed to raise, and the one-year old son he has with his long-time girlfriend Ella.

Apparently his story tugged at more heartstrings than mine. It also appears to have affected some guys who one would assume are fairly heartless about such things—Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. After all, they are tasked with winning, not with mentoring aspiring young players who come with appendages. But that seems to be just what happened.

After his interview with Burns in the run-up to the draft, Colbert said Burns was a “special kid.” According to Burns’ agent, Mike Tomlin told him that if Burns was there, he was Tomlin’s guy. Jeremy Fowler, the ESPN reporter for the Steelers, quoted Burns’ agent, who said he 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.” It seems pretty obvious it was the Steelers. And as for the draft itself, Roger Goodell barely had time to walk off the stage after announcing the Bengals’ pick before he had to turn around and announce the Steelers’ pick. Apparently it came in seconds after the Steelers were on the clock.

Burns seems to be one of those rarest of birds—a young man who doesn’t take his opportunities for granted. He said he realized that the Steelers were taking a risk with him, and he would do his utmost to make them happy they did. He asked right away to be put on Antonio Brown at practice, and spent the summer being humiliated by him, as Ivan, Homer and I witnessed at training camp. Not an easy thing, but as Burns recently noted, when you’re used to covering AB you can cover anybody. He has worked extremely hard and it is definitely beginning to pay big dividends.

And this of course illustrates a lot about his character, but the thing which prompted this article was a recent party he went to. He actually threw the party, as noted in a recent TribLive article:

It was in [his mother’s] memory that Burns joined with The Highmark Caring Place, which provides support for children who’ve lost a loved one, to host the first-ever Dana’s Angels holiday party at Savoy Restaurant in the Strip District.

“My mom meant a lot to me and my brothers, my whole family and my community…. She was a track coach, a mentor to people in the neighborhood and reached a lot of people. That’s something that I learned from her, that it’s not about what you do in your life, you have to also help others and that’s what she did.”

The thing I found particularly touching was that, according to the director, Burns found out about the Highmark Caring Place and reached out to them. The Steelers get requests all the time for players to show up in support of this or that function or event, but to me it puts it on a whole different level for the player to initiate the connection. And he didn’t just show up:

As Burns made his way through the restaurant, meeting and talking with the children, he asked them questions about the loved ones they lost and their Christmas traditions, and talked about his mom and how Christmas in his home was always a big two-day party.

Eleven-year-old Paige McAndrew told how she’d lost her baby brother and how The Caring Place helped her.

“It helped me focus not just on him and how he’s gone, and focus on how there’s other stuff we can do to help,” she said. “It was really nice.”

The evening included a dinner and dessert, and at the end of the night, every child got to take home a gift bag stuffed with presents. The event was the official launch of Dana’s Angels.

“Everything I do from now on is for her,” Burns said. “Dana’s Angels, the name says it all because she’s my angel.”

This isn’t something Burns has had a long time to process either. His mother died just over a year ago, so talking to those kids had to re-open wounds for him which are undoubtedly fresh enough as it is. I can’t imagine there was a dry eye in the house.

I’m definitely beginning to think we got the pick of the litter in this year’s cornerback class. But whatever happens on the field from here on out, I feel like the Steelers hit a home run. He’s a class act, and I’m awfully glad he’s in the Black and Gold.



  • HawaiianSteeler86

    Thanks Rebecca, what a great write-up on our #1 pick from the 2016 NFL Draft! Artie Burns is one “matured” young man. To take such a loss in his life and turn it into a positive for others is just inspiring!

    To hear that Mike Tomlin wanted to be in Artie’s life to help him is just another example of “The Steeler Way”. No wonder our pick came in seconds after the Steelers were placed on the clock. This story makes me proud to be a Steeler Fan!

    Liked by 2 people

  • Lovely profile of a terrific kid.

    Burns and Davis are both ultra-high character guys who will be among the next generation of team leaders in the clubhouse and on the field.

    Character is what keeps your team together when the breaks start going against you, or when you hit a rough patch in the schedule or some key injuries. Teams without character and leadership will fold and pack it in. Tomlin’s teams, year after year, play best when faced with adversity. Like last year, when everybody but the ticket taker was injured at the end of the year, and yet they nearly beat the Super Bowl champions in the playoff. Or this year, when the loss to Dallas might have crushed other teams.

    Okay, it helped that the schedule softened after Dallas, but you get the idea. Burns is a high-quality guy who has limitless upside. He’s progressed faster than we had hoped. He’s still inexperienced and will have setbacks. But his skills and character will see him through.

    It’s too early to know, but it’s beginning to look like this year’s draft was the best since 1974.


    • This doesn’t have anything to do with his character, but it is relevant to his limitless potential you mentioned. When he bit on the pump fake and gave up that long pass down the sideline against the Bills, it didn’t bother me that much for two reasons. One, with an aggressive ball-hawking CB you have to take the bad with the good; he went for the INT and got burned, sometimes it happens. Two, he still actually almost got that ball! After realizing he got burned, he managed to gather himself enough for a leap to try to bat it down, and it looked to me that he came really close. The length of that guy is startling, and it’s not just in comparison to guys like Blake and Gay. Ike Taylor was 2 inches taller and Ross Cockrell is the same height, but Burns’ arms are so long and his timing so good that he consistently surprises you with what he can get to.


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