Many fans considered the selection of cornerback Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft to be a reach. While this might be a true statement, it doesn’t change Burns’ status heading into his professional career.
After a promising first and second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burns started to look like a player who lacked confidence in himself. Whenever he stepped on the field he was targeted, and often beaten by opposing receivers. It got so bad the team relied on Coty Sensabaugh, who currently doesn’t have a team to call home, over their former first round pick.
In the offseason, the team had a tough choice to make: Pick up Burns’ 5th year option, or let him play out his fourth season before becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent at the start of the new league year.
They opted to not pick up the option, and Burns wasn’t even sure what his future would be with the team, but through it all he has kept a low profile and continued to work. This caught the attention of both Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert.
“Artie didn’t care about that [his $800k bonus]. He was focused on trying to get better,” Colbert told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He did his work in the spring, and he competed and we think he did show signs of improvement. Of course, he has to continue that, and it’s encouraging for us.”
You might read that quote and wonder how Burns’ development could be encouraging, but Colbert is right. If Burns proves he is capable of becoming a asset to the team, they certainly would have options. First, Burns would provide a depth at cornerback who has a tremendous amount of experience if Joe Haden or Steven Nelson were to get injured. Second, if he proves enough he could be someone another team covets, which could give the Steelers some return for Burns’ skills.
Regardless, Burns is just putting his head down and trying to get better.
“I wasn’t really too much worried about that,” Burns said. “I didn’t know what my future was with this team coming in to the spring, so me being here, I just keep working. I’m not really too focused on stuff like that.”
Burns spent the majority of his offseason in Pittsburgh, electing to show up and prove his worth rather than leave and return when he had to.
“The guys who don’t stay here, you trust they are doing what they need to do to get their work in,” Colbert said. “That’s only proven by what they look like when they get here. Him being here, you could see him on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes you get a better feeling when you see them than when you don’t.”
There is something about Burns which makes you want to root for him. To hope he gets his career back on track and becomes the player the Steelers hoped they drafted out of the University of Miami. And Burns knows just what he has to do to prove this to his coaches.
“I have to continuously work every day, keep getting better every day,” Burns said. “It’s being my best self I can possibly be every day.”
Will Burns be able to crack the 53-man roster? Only time will tell, but all reports from training camp show he is a player with a different look about it. Again, this is only good news for the black-and-gold.