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The Steelers selection of Artie Burns perhaps not as crazy as it seems

The reactions to the Steelers selection of Miami cornerback Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft have been more negative than positive. But if he can become the elite player Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin thinks he can be, Burns will quickly make you forget about your disappointment.

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night was one of the darkest in Pittsburgh sports history.

"You mean because the Penguins lost in overtime to the Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?" you might be asking. No, it was because the Steelers used their first round pick (25th, overall) to draft a cornerback with mixed reviews by many.

I didn't have the draft evening I had expected, but that was a good thing. Instead of spending my post-volleyball hours sitting in-front of my laptop, watching pick after pick take place on, I spent a pleasant evening out with a friend of mine, just shooting the breeze and decompressing over some margaritas (that was much better).

I got in my car just in-time to hear the few picks right before Pittsburgh's. Like a lot of people, when William Jackson III (the closest thing I had to a draft crush this year) was still there when the Bengals picked at 24, I thought the Steelers were in the clear and would not only finally draft a corner, but get one that would make the people rejoice.

With Cincinnati's secondary filled with former first round picks and in much better shape than Pittsburgh's, it was easy to assume the Bengals would try to address a real need at another position. However, when Jackson III became the 24th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, I thought, "Well, I guess Andrew Billings will be the guy."

As soon as I got home and turned on my radio--literally minutes after Jackson's name was called by the commissioner--I heard the name Artie Burns, and instead of throwing a fit or rejoicing, I thought, "I can see that."

Of course, I knew many other people would react terribly to the selection of Burns, and when I turned on my computer, I wasn't disappointed. I get how you feel, though. In addition to Billings, other interesting defensive linemen were still on the board -- Robert Nkemdiche and Vernon Butler. Had the Steelers selected any of them, there likely would have been more praise than criticism.

And the fact that Pittsburgh selected Burns so quickly after Jackson's name was called just screamed of a knee-jerk response.

I would believe that if it wasn't for the fact that Mackensie Alexander, arguably the third or fourth ranked corner on most boards and a projected mid-first round pick by many, wasn't still available when the Steelers selected. If Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were hell-bent on drafting a corner but were dismayed when maybe their targeted player was snatched away just ahead of them, don't you think they would have made a "safer" choice in Alexander, just to save face?

However, Tomlin, in-particular, seemed excited about the selection. Here's a quote from the head coach, courtesy of the Steelers official website:

"There's a lot to be excited about with Artie. He's a third-year player. He has a lot of growth potential. We're excited about the upsides. He's a master at bump-corner, it appears to be something that's a natural element of his game. He's good at the ball, he's good with the ball down the field. He's right at six feet [tall] or just under. He has elite speed. He's a track man also down there at Miami. We're just really excited about him in general. Good player to work with. He can get things going for us in 2016."

Obviously, a head coach or anyone associated with drafting a player in the first round isn't going to act disappointed when addressing the media immediately afterwards, but these guys do theie homework and spend endless hours evaluating prospects. You might have your idea of player rankings. I might have mine, but nobody is closer to the process than a coach, a general manager and the scouts that work for them.

Since Burns' selection, some have questioned a fit from a schematic standpoint. As has been pointed out, the Steelers played more zone coverage than any team in the NFL in 2015, but something Tomlin said in his post-draft appraisal of Burns sticks out: "He's a master at the bump-corner, it appears to be something that's a natural element of his game."

Maybe the Steelers did play more zone coverage a year ago, but given the results (30th against the pass), perhaps there's a change in philosophy afoot, with the secondary becoming more aggressive.

At 6'0 and 193 pounds, Burns certainly is big enough to be aggressive and physical as he shadows a receiver all over the field. And like Tomlin alluded to, Burns ran track at Miami and excelled, so he certainly has the speed. Also, if his ball-skills are to be believed (six interceptions and five passes defensed in 2015), he clearly possesses attributes not seen with most of Pittsburgh's defensive backs in recent years.

Is Burns considered a bit of a reach? Maybe. Here's a quote from draft expert Mike Mayock which can be found on Burns' draft profile: "I know teams with a third-round grade on Burns and others that believe he could end up the best corner in this draft." (Mayock had Burns going to the Cardinals at 29 in his last mock draft on Wednesday.)

Burns might have been considered a first or second round prospect by most, but then, aren't the majority of players selected in the latter-portion of the first round?

Fact is, in the days and weeks before the draft, I saw Burns' name near the end of the first round of enough mock drafts -- including's Charles Davis' last mock draft on Tuesday, which had Burns going to the Steelers -- to feel comfortable with the selection.

Here's a quote from Davis, explaining his prediction: "A confident player with some length, Burns can run and make plays on the ball downfield. He's needed to help the Steelers deal with the Bengals' A.J. Green and Ravens' Steve Smith."

Artie Burns might not be a sexy pick right now, but if he can ultimately go on to do most of those things mentioned in Davis' quote, he'll quickly begin to grow on you.