For those who may have been worried that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie first-round cornerback Artie Burns was going to spend all season rotting on the bench—which was the general perception after he was drafted when taking into consideration the fact that he was drafted as a raw underclassman—you can probably set your fears aside for now, because he has played a substantial amount through the quarter pole of the year.
Over the course of the first four weeks of the season, Burns has accumulated a total of 148 snaps, a number that has consistently trended upward on a weekly basis both in terms of raw number and in percentage of snaps played.
This total was produced from a base total snap count for the defense of 284, which means that the rookie first-rounder has played roughly 52 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps thus far this year. When you take into consideration the fact that he played a mere nine snaps in the season opener, however, it becomes more obvious how much his role has escalated since then.
During the first game of the season, the Steelers were highly selective with their usage of their quarter defense, using it only nine times in 63 defensive snaps over the course of the game in obvious passing situations.
By the next week, they had grown more ambitious. While they still started out each half using it only selectively, by the end of the second and fourth quarters, they were employing it liberally. They ran out of that look for most of the fourth quarter, and Burns ended up logging 32 of 77 snaps.
Injury circumstances have dictated that he log a higher percentage of snaps over the course of the past two weeks, which is a fact that must be taken into consideration when evaluating the level of his contributions in weeks three and four, but the fact that he has been entrusted with the time logged cannot be taken away.
In week three against the Eagles, the Steelers lost starting safety Robert Golden, which forced slot defender Sean Davis to safety. Burns then became the team’s nickel defender, and over the course of the game he ended up logging 42 of 67 snaps.
On Sunday, Burns played the vast majority of the game, seeing action on 65 of 77 total snaps, as he spent the entire game as the Steelers’ nickel defender, where the team spent over 85 percent of its time playing.
Over the course of the past two weeks alone, the rookie has seen a total of 107 snaps of action of a total 144 possible snaps, which comes out to just under 75 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps over that span.
That number will tick down as the secondary gets healthier, and perhaps other faces begin to contribute as well, but just for anybody worried that his growth was going to be stunted due to a lack of in-game opportunities, that will most certainly not be the case. If anything, he is seeing too much time too soon, even if he has made a few plays.