By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
Last night in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Steelers selection turned some heads, as most Steelers fans had the team pegged to take William Jackson III, Andrew Billings, or even A’Shawn Robinson. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Jackson was selected at pick #24 to the hated Bengals. This made everyone and their mothers believe that the Steelers would then select Billings.
“With the 25th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select…”
Almost instantly, everyone began pegging Burns as a bust, stating that he would never develop into a legitimate cornerback, that he was a tremendous reach, and that the Steelers top brass was foolish for not selecting the huge, athletic tackle from Baylor.
Now while these fears all might end up becoming true, they are not at all necessary just shy of one day after making the selection.
Here are some things to consider:
-Artie Burns is a top flight athlete. He runs a 4.46 40 while being 6’0″, 193 lbs.
-He has the type of backstory and character that the Steelers have always coveted in a player.
-He is extremely young (yet mature), being only 20 years old (he turns 21 on Sunday).
-While he his extremely raw, he has tremendous upside and abilities that should excite fans.
Burns comes to the Steelers as having some of the most potential of any defensive back in the NFL. While he is not yet the sum of his parts at this point in his career, he has a ceiling a mile high. Mike Tomlin said it perfectly when he described Burns as a piece of clay that they can mold. For someone to say that Burns will not amount to anything in the NFL is completely asinine.
Burns has yet to even play a snap in the NFL.
The one thing that gets me the most about people complaining about the Burns pick is saying that he is an “extreme reach”. I’ll completely agree that Jackson would have been the optimal pick at #25 and all signs pointed to that actually happening. But to say that Burns is a reach is only partially true. Realistically, Burns was not going to very far into the 2nd round, which begins only 7 picks after the Steelers. With all of the top cornerbacks (and the top two safeties, for that matter) already off the board in the 1st round, there will likely be a huge run on defensive backs in the second round. This means the next wave of corners (Mackensie Alexander, Kendall Fuller, Xavien Howard, and even Will Redmond) will likely all be off the board by the time the Steelers pick at #58. After these cornerbacks, there is a substantial drop-off in talent.
Do you really want to see the Steelers draft Cyrus Jones to be their next #1 cornerback?
I didn’t think so.
Even though the Steelers “reached” ever so slightly to take Burns, they got the guy that they wanted.
The last time I checked, most Steelers fans have been saying that we needed to draft a cornerback in the 1st round. And for the first time in 19 years, they did just that, taking the long, fast, ball-hawking cornerback from a Power 5 conference that fans have been clamoring about for so long now. If anything, Steelers fans should be excited about the potential and upside that Burns brings to the table. The kid can straight up play football. Once he works out the wrinkles, he will be a dangerous shutdown cornerback in the NFL.
Truth be told, no one really expected safeties Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal to be selected in the top 20 of the 1st round. But people seemed less surprised to see Joseph go #14 than they did to see the Steelers take Burns at #25, when they were both considered to be selected near the top of the 2nd round. So which team truly “reached”? Yeah. The Raiders.
In regards to not drafting Billings (who I am a huge fan of, actually), this act should not surprise anyone. As much as I believe that the Steelers need a defensive lineman, they likely will look for one who can truly play both inside and out. For as athletic as Billings is, he is really only suited to play on the interior defensive line. Kevin Colbert said earlier in the week that the team is looking for defensive linemen who can play inside and out and in their various sub-packages. So while Billings is talented and arguably more pro ready than Burns, does that warrant taking a guy that would realistically only see time in their base 3-4 package (which they barely use anymore)? In the 1st round, the answer is a resounding no. Now if Billings would somehow fall to the 58th pick, then most definitely Billings should be the pick. I would actually be ecstatic if that happened. But not in the 1st round for a guy who only fits in certain schemes on the teams defense. Especially as the Steelers get further and further away from their traditional nose tackle days (even though we wish the days of Casey Hampton were still here).
Realistically, people should be more upset that they didn’t look at a more versatile linemen like Robert Nkemdiche or even A’Shawn Robinson. Not Billings.
Either way, the Steelers were in need in cornerback and safety help more than along the defensive line. With their top 2 safeties and their top cornerback off the board, the Steelers had to make a move on a player that they were high on that would not be available in the second round.
As I said previously, none of the cornerbacks that the Steelers would consider drafting would be available in the 2nd round and no one after that could really be considered as a player that projects as a future #1 cornerback, something the Steelers desperately.
Fans asked, no, demanded for a 1st round corner who was tall, fast, athletic, and could force turnovers. Check, check, check, check, and check.
I remember the Steelers “reaching” on a guy named Senquez Golson, who was projected to be a 3rd-4th round draft pick. He went with the 56th pick in the 2015 draft and has yet to play a snap for the Steelers, yet no one is hurrying to call him a bust, even though he measures in at 5’9″ and is coming off a major shoulder injury.
If the Steelers selected Burns as a 2nd round player (if he were even available then), everyone would be running to call him the savior of the secondary and a surefire Pro Bowler.
What’s the difference? A 1st round pick.
Steelers Nation, please stop jumping to conclusions before a player steps foot onto Heinz Field. Is there a chance that he can be a bust? Sure. Every 1st rounder in the history of the NFL can develop into the next Ryan Leaf. Not many people thought that Leaf would be a bust. But here we are years later.
At the end of the day, we as fans are not involved in the behind the scenes discussions and meetings that go into making draft-day decisions. As far as we know, there were red flags that came up during meetings with players like Billings and Robinson and that is why they are currently available heading into the 2nd round. I mean think about it. There were 2 defensive linemen picked at the end of the 1st round after the Steelers selected. One of those defensive linemen (Kenny Clark) was considered by most to be a 2nd rounder with very little upside. But yet, the Packers (a historically strong drafting team) took Clark over Billings and Robinson, who are both better prospects.
So it is likely that teams know something that we don’t know.
Which is why they get paid the big bucks.
Steelers fans, again, please stop jumping to early conclusions about how a player will perform before he has a minute of coaching or on field experience to his name. Burns is the feel good story that makes you want to cheer for him to be successful for the sake of his family. When it’s all said and done, I could very well be wrong and Burns could be a bust. But when it’s all said and done, he could very well be our #1 cornerback for the next decade.
I’m hoping that it’s the latter.
So please, Steelers Nation. Trust the Steelers organization and their ability to find talent in all phases of the draft.
Because remember, the draft is 7 rounds long. Not 1.
Burns is now a Pittsburgh Steeler whether you like it or not. And the least we could do is give him a chance to make his mark on the field. With the upside that he has, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about what he can bring to the table.
Stop being so negative.
After all, we have been begging for a 1st round corner fitting the description of Burns for years now.
Beggars can’t be choosers.