If you’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but not a fan of Pro Football Focus—and in my experience, that is a sizable contingent—then you may want to avert your eyes. For the second consecutive year, the website believes that the Steelers more or less bombed with their first-round selection, this year drafting cornerback Artie Burns with the 25th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
After the Cincinnati Bengals drafted cornerback William Jackson III just one spot ahead of the Steelers, Pittsburgh followed suit with their desire to draft a cornerback by adding Burns, the first cornerback that they have drafted in the opening ground in nearly two decades.
PFF graded the selection of Jackson an A, writing that he may develop into the best pure cornerback in the draft in a couple years’ time. They scored the Steelers’ selection a D, and elsewhere noted that Burns was their seventh-rated cornerback, despite being the fifth drafted.
Not only does PFF question the value of Burns that high in the draft, they also question how the six-foot cornerback will fit in the Steelers’ defense, which relies more than any other team on zone and off-man coverages, and which just so happens to be where Burns remains weak in his game.
In their own coverage grades, Burns ranked just 42nd in the draft class, writing that the pick is “an example of a cornerback’s size and speed moving hum up a draft board at the expense of on-field play”, and noting that “his overall game remains raw”.
Of course, the Miami product will only turn 21 in the coming days after exiting college early, and is nearly three years younger than Jackson, while the two cornerbacks are generally within the same realm with respect to size and speed.
You might recall that PFF was no fan of the Steelers’ previous first-round pick, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who slid to 22nd overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, prompting Pittsburgh to go get him. The site’s evaluators, however, were none too impressed, rating the selection a D-.
“Dupree has the measurables of a star but the tape of a guy who should have been nowhere near Round 1”, they wrote last year. “He didn’t generate much pressure and what he did came against guys who won’t end up anywhere near the NFL”.
Earlier this month, PFF revisited the 2015 first-round draft class, dipping back into and grading their rookie seasons, and the site continued to be thoroughly unimpressed with Dupree, who graded out at -22.4 for his rookie season, ranked 100th out of all edge defenders in the NFL. That is a substantially negative grade given that he only played roughly a bit more than half of the team’s snaps.
Of course, the Pro Football Focus evaluation of the Steelers’ most recent draft picks are simply one data point in a sea of them, and the future success of Dupree and Burns will be determined by what they do on the field, rather than what somebody writes about them. But clearly, PFF has not been impressed with Pittsburgh’s most recent work in the first round.