The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Another solid start to training camp is just more fool’s gold from Artie Burns.
Explanation: fourth-year cornerback is an athletic player with ball skills. Those qualities can show up easier on the practice field than in games without other, complementary qualities necessary to be a complete NFL cornerback. He has almost always performed well in Latrobe, and has once again this year so far after burning out during the first half of the regular season in 2018.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Or so the saying goes. There are and have always been players who can excel in practice but fail to perform on that level in an environment that is less strictly oriented toward natural abilities. Justin Hunter was certainly one. Burns may well be another.
While it would be a gross overstatement to suggest that the former first-round pick’s entire career has been a calamity, the fact is that the same issues that he displayed last season have always been present. They have been increasingly exposed as the defense has covered for him less, the natural expectation for a young player gaining experience.
The bottom line is that we haven’t seen anything yet, albeit in just four practices, that suggests Burns has meaningfully grown since 2018 in a way that is going to make him a better player.
But that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t. It’s early to pose this, but the purpose of speculative evaluation is to get a jump on the market, either buying stock in something that is currently underpriced or getting rid of a stock that is primed to plummet. So no, we won’t know until we see him in the preseason, and maybe even in the regular season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have our hunches.
And the fact is that Burns has put in a lot of work this offseason, work that he hasn’t before. He’s been praised for his initiative, even sitting in on coaches’ meetings, trying to learn more. He has the talent to be a quality starting cornerback, but he has been working on putting in the mental work that is as critical a component as the physical. This is the difference from prior seasons. He’s not going to start this year, but he will be trusted enough to start if necessary.