Burns, a 20-year-old junior, had a very productive 2015 season for the Hurricanes, intercepting six passes to go along with five pass breakups. Those numbers, and his all-around solid play, helped him earn second-team All ACC honors. The rangy cornerback played in a reserve role during his freshman season in 2013, and cracked the starting lineup in his sophomore year, recording 40 tackles and six pass breakups.
Burns attended Miami Northwestern High School, which has gained notoriety as a football factory, producing several NFL players such as Lavonte David, Amari Cooper, and former Steelers linebacker Sean Spence. A two-sport athlete, Burns won a state title in the 110-meter hurdles three times. At Miami, he earned All-American track and field honors as a hurdler.
Unfortunately, Burns faced tragic hardship in his personal life, when his mother passed away after suffering a heart attack last year. With his father serving a 25-year sentence for cocaine trafficking, Burns has had a lot to overcome off of the field.
From a measurables standpoint, Burns checks all of the boxes. At 6-foot, 193 pounds, he has ideal size to match up with larger wide receivers on the perimeter. A stellar athlete, he has great length (33 1/4" arms), and big mitts (9 1/2" hands), which he used to break up 14 passes in three seasons at The U.
PRO DAY RESULTS
Short shuttle: 4.3 seconds
3-cone: 6.96 seconds
Vertical: 33 inches
Broad: 10 feet, 4 inches
Bench: 7 reps of 225 pounds
Burns played the majority of his defensive snaps at the collegiate level lined up in man coverage, both off the line of scrimmage, and in press. It's a role in which he excelled, using his length, raw athleticism, and physicality to disrupt receivers and contest throws. His six interceptions in 2015 were the most by a Miami player since the late Sean Taylor snagged 10 back in 2003.
Schematically, Burns is an odd fit for a team like the Steelers, who ran more zone coverage schemes than any other team in the league last year. Perhaps it's a sign that Pittsburgh plans to alter its scheme and play more man coverage going forward. Not since Ike Taylor has the team had a corner who can shadow the opposing teams top receiving option throughout the course of an entire game. In this sense, Burns could add an entirely new dimension to the Steelers' defensive backfield as a true No. 1 corner.
Burns tape isn't exactly overwhelming. He often lacks proper technique, and relies too heavily on his raw size and athleticism. This was the main reason why most scouts and draft analysts projected him to go in the second or third round, and why many, including myself, see the pick as a somewhat of a reach at No. 25 overall.
The Steelers haven't drafted a cornerback in the first round since selecting Chad Scott with the 24th overall pick in 1997. After finishing with the 30th ranked pass defense in the league in 2015, it's clear that the front office felt it was time to make a serious effort to upgrade the position.
In typical fashion, the Steelers were quick to praise their first rounder, who they view as one of the best corners in the draft.
"We were very excited this young man was available," General Manager Kevin Colbert said. "There's tons of upside with him."
With Burns, Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake know they have a project on their hands, who probably won't be able to crack the starting lineup in his rookie year. If he puts in the work, however, the young defensive back has the potential to become one of the best lock-down corners in the NFL down the road.