As the clock approached quarter to 11 at night on Thursday, April 28, 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they were going to draft a cornerback with their first selection. It was at this time that the Cincinnati Bengals were on the clock, who were drafting immediately ahead of them, and there were two cornerbacks that they ranked with first-round grades left on the board.
There was William Jackson III, whom the Steelers had dinner with while attending his Pro Day. And there was Artie Burns out of Miami. Pittsburgh also had dinner with the 20-year-old before his Pro Day. But the focus had been on Jackson. Even he acknowledged that he felt he was going to be going to the Steelers.
It turns out, Pittsburgh was on the phone with a cornerback while the Bengals were on the clock. But that cornerback was Burns, not Jackson, according to an article written by Stephen J. Nesbitt for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published yesterday.
Nesbitt writes that as those in attendance at his draft party looked on with the draft on the television, they believed that Burns must have been on the phone with a Cincinnati number. That is until he ended the conversation with “all right, Coach T”. Even his agent asked, “coach who?”, in response, according to the article.
Provided that the circumstances behind this conversation are clear, the implications are interesting, and suggest that perhaps Burns is the cornerback that the team would have drafted regardless of whether or not Jackson was still available for them.
After all, who is to say, other than what many have speculated? No amount of mock drafts listing William Jackson III next to the name Pittsburgh Steelers will ever have any influence over whether or not the Steelers were as interested in making that happen as were those writing those mock drafts.
At this point, of course, it doesn’t particularly matter whether or not the implication behind this exchange is true or not, because Burns is already a Steeler, and Jackson is a Bengal. They certainly did not seem to be disappointed in being able to draft him, however.
While we may have done our draft history studies looking up tendencies regarding what the team seems to look for in players based on the selections they have made in the past, there are always times to buck the trend, and Burns was such a time.
A young underclassman with raw skills—and a cornerback in the first round, no less—Burns doesn’t necessarily fit seamlessly with what we might have expected the Steelers to do based on prior draft history, but he does fit the profile of some other recent cornerbacks the team was interested in but did not have the opportunity to draft.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert described this as the deepest cornerback class that he has worked with in his time, and that translated to him drafting one in the first round for the first time in his entire tenure with the Steelers. And evidently they had the opportunity to draft the one that they wanted who would realistically be on the board.