The Pittsburgh Steelers are not typically a team that rushes its young players onto the field too soon, as we all know, and that has been especially true of the defense, with Ryan Shazier in 2014 being the first rookie to start on opening day in the past decade-plus.
But this year, the Steelers drafted a cornerback, a position that has been widely regarded as a high priority, and a position that has had questionable depth, especially after losing three of the six cornerbacks that spent time on the 53-man roster last year.
That cornerback, Artie Burns out of Miami, is a raw physical talent who only turned 21 soon after the draft, so he has his work cut out for him if he means to add his name to the list of exceptions to the general rule of working rookies in slowly.
Among those who believe he has the opportunity to buck the trend is a former Steelers cornerback himself, former 2005 second-round draft selection Bryant McFadden, who made one start in 12 games his rookie season, making 18 tackles with one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, and six passes defensed—as well as a crucial pass defensed in the end zone against the Colts in the playoffs that year.
Speaking on NFL Network about the defensive backs drafted in the first round in 2016, McFadden was asked about Burns going to his former team, and had this to say:
“I think Artie has a chance to start. He could be a day-one starter. William Gay is the only experienced corner currently on that roster. If you look at what’s going on with offenses, you have to have at least three quality corners on the field at any given time. I think once Artie gets down the defense, the schemes, the checks, all the audibles, I think he has the opportunity of being a day-one starter Week One.”
He went on to acknowledge Burns’ room for growth by citing the team’s coaching staff in addition to the lack of obstacles in front of him as his pathway toward starting early. “This is a well-coached bunch collectively on the defense”, he said, which he can cull from personal experience.
“Carnell Lake, he’s a guy that has been hands-on with the secondary, and even Mike Tomlin, he’s a former secondary coach, so from time to time he likes to stick his head into the building and see what the secondary guys are doing”, he said. Lake came on board in Bryant’s final season. “But Artie Burns, he’s a track guy, athletic, very, very raw, but with the right coaching, he could be a day-one starter”.
Interestingly, it was McFadden to whom Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider has compared Burns, citing strikingly similar pre-draft measurements, and they obviously fit the mold of what the Steelers have historically looked for recently in cornerbacks. Tomlin was asked about the similarity between McFadden and Burns after the draft, but the head coach said he hadn’t made that comparison himself.
As an aside, I think McFadden handled himself quite well during the segment, and it seems that his post-football career entering the media has been going pretty well. He is not the only former Steelers secondary voice in the media, however, as both Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor have made the same transition.