With the 24th pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected 6’1”, 205-pound cornerback Chad Scott out of Maryland, a year after they had gone through a season of playing a converted safety and a disappointing free agent acquisition at the cornerback spots.
With the 25th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected 6’, 190-pound cornerback Artie Burns out of Miami, a year after they had gone through a season of injuries and inefficacy at the cornerback position.
In between the selections of Scott and Burns, the Steelers had not used their first-round selection in the subsequent 19 drafts to add a cornerback, but rarely in the interim had they been as desperate at the position as they had been now, or 19 years ago.
The selection of Scott led to a nine-year career, the first seven with the Steelers, during which he started 86 of 91 games in Pittsburgh, recording over 400 tackles, 19 interceptions (with four returned for touchdowns) and 51 passes defensed.
That is certainly not a bad career, by any means, to be sure. His weighted career average of 43 is roughly double what the average first-round cornerback had yielded during the past two decades according to the Washington Post study that I have mentioned a handful of times over the course of the past week.
But it certainly wasn’t the home run that everybody was hoping for, and it would not be accurate to say that he had a significant impact in dramatically improving the Steelers’ pass defense during his tenure. Ike Taylor, drafted several years later, had a much bigger impact. The drafting of Scott was fueled at least in part by desperation at a need position, and a bit of a reach.
The same can be said of the selection of Artie Burns, the newest Steelers, whom many evaluated as a second-round talent. But when William Jackson III went off the board just a pick ahead of the Steelers to the division-rival Bengals, Pittsburgh kept their focus on the cornerback position and took on Burns, who bucks many trends for the team recently.
While his professional career is yet to unfold, it will undoubtedly begin with a microscope constantly looming over him, in addition to the perception that he was a reach, as much as the cornerback position was a need, with his career forever linked with that of Jackson’s.
Personally, it is hard for me to see the selection as not having been influenced heavily by need, and in part desperation after Jackson quickly went off the board, and I suspect that the Steelers would have much preferred that Jackson been there when they picked, no matter what they will say subsequently.
That doesn’t mean that he can’t develop into a quality player, by any means. He has plenty of upside in terms of youth, height, speed, and inexperience. He remains somewhat raw, but he can be molded over time. Whether or not he does will be the ultimate evaluator of this pick, but until that time, I have little doubt that the majority opinion will hold that his selection was reactionary and a reach, not representing quality value at his selection.