The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best track records in the draft across the NFL. That doesn’t mean they get everything right. Two of their past seven first-round picks have been busts, starting with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in 2013, and then again in 2016 with the selection of Artie Burns at cornerback.
At least in the case of Jones, it was not regarded as a reach at the time. Jones was a highly productive player during his college career, but he lacked the finesse to excel at the NFL level, and the Steelers at the time, frankly, did not have the scheme to maximize him.
When it comes to Burns, however, it’s a much tougher sell trying to justify his selection in hindsight. And now he is set to move on to another team, a year and a half after losing his starting job and having never gotten it back. He is just the second Steelers first-round pick who did not have his fifth-year option picked up since it began in 2011.
So it’s no surprise that ESPN chose Burns as the player on the Steelers who is most in need of a fresh start in 2020. Typically, first-round picks who do not work out with the teams who drafted them are always a good candidate for such discussions. Brooke Pryor writes:
A year after losing his starting job, the 2016 first-round pick also lost his role in sub packages and special teams over the course of the 2019 season. Now an unrestricted free agent, Burns will take the fresh start. With plenty of depth in the corner group, the Steelers have given no indication they intend on bringing him back, and Burns said he had to “get to another team” during a locker room clean-out day. With 32 starts and 149 tackles under his belt in Pittsburgh, Burns has a good foundation to build on at his next stop.
As she writes, Burns has already made it clear that he has every intention of moving on to another team following his four years in Pittsburgh, though of course the Steelers have not given the slightest indication that they have any interest in re-signing him, either.
As a rookie in 2016, Burns began playing in the dime defense on the outside. By Week Five or so, he was promoted to the nickel defender role, coming on the field as the extra defensive back. He entered the starting lineup around midseason and finished his rookie year with three interceptions.
He would have his ups and downs throughout the 2017 season as well, enough to put him on the shaky ground in 2018 that got him demoted to rotational work by Week Three. After the bye week, Coty Sensabaugh took over the starting job for good.
Last season, he was at high risk of not making the roster at all, but he did ultimately make the team, playing behind Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. Or rather, not playing. When Steven Nelson missed a game due to injury, however, Burns did start, and he played competently enough. That was his only chance, however, and he finished the year as a healthy scratch after rookie Justin Layne proved the better dress for special teams.