There are not a lot of meaningful conclusions that you can reach about a player after the end of his first season, but that certainly doesn’t stop people from talking about it. You can find just about any variety of analysis that you would care to read if you just look for it, complete with bold letter grades.
I’m not going to do that. But I am going to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 NFL Draft class, both collectively, in this article, as well as individually, in succeeding articles.
The Steelers entered the draft process this past year with seven draft picks, including their natural draft picks sans their fifth, which they gave up in a trade for Brandon Boykin, plus an extra seventh-round pick in exchange for Brad Wing.
In contrast to recent history, the Steelers received significant playing time on defense from three rookies, while also getting some minor contributions from some late-round picks to boot. In terms of rookie seasons, it was the most successful class in recent memory.
Player: Artie Burns
Draft Status: 1st round (25th overall)
Unlike the typical rookie season for a defensive draft pick in Pittsburgh, first-round cornerback Artie Burns was worked into the lineup steadily over the course of the season until he was on the field for every snap by the time the second half of the season rolled around.
The Steelers were pretty clearly set on drafting a cornerback in the first round, or so it seemed, after they snapped up Burns following their target, William Jackson III, going off right before their pick. While the selection of Burns was pretty heavily criticized, he clearly had a better rookie season than anybody had anticipated.
Coming out as a junior and as a player who was not even an every-down player in college, it was expected that Burns would have a pretty significant learning curve and perhaps not even contribute meaningfully as a rookie. But instead he contributed immediately as the dime defender, albeit a sparsely-used package.
After a few games he became the Steelers’ nickel defender, lining up on the outside, of course, and in the second half of the season was installed into the starting lineup. He recorded an interception in his first start in addition to two pass deflections, and led the team with three interception on the season. his 13 pass deflections were second-most.
Burns obviously still has a lot of room to grow as a football player. He had some serious issues in run support and maintaining gap integrity, but his struggled in coverage against double moves led to some explosive plays as well. He gave up the most touchdowns of all rookies.
Continued growth from the talented young cornerback will be integral to the team’s ability to improve and take the next step, but he already got the opportunity to have a solid body of work as a rookie to build from, which usually isn’t the case for Pittsburgh rookies.