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The Pittsburgh Steelers are being roundly criticized for drafting Artie Burns, but was it really that bad?

SCI publisher Jim Wexell takes a close look at the criticisms being leveled at the Steelers for drafting Artie Burns in the first round.

I've harkened back to our Scout Publisher's Mock Draft a few times this past week and I'm going to do it again today because I recalled having drafted William Jackson, the cornerback from Houston, in the first round of said mock draft and then afterward receiving a friendly text from the publisher of our Kansas City Chiefs site.

He wrote something to the effect that I should enjoy the pick now because on draft day Chiefs Coach Andy Reid will trade up for Jackson.

I thought of that as Jackson appeared to be careening toward the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the draft last night and I realized that -- with the top wide receivers gone -- the despised Cincinnati Bengals would love nothing more than to wreck the Steelers' obvious love affair with Jackson by trading down with the Chiefs.

But noooooooo.

Instead, the Bengals drafted Jackson, giving them three first-round cornerbacks out of the last five drafts. All of them are now vying for the spot opposite first-round veteran Pacman Jones.

How many cornerbacks does one team need?

Or better: Do they hate the Steelers that much?

I bring all of this up because of the Chiefs, who were looking for a first-round corner to replace the departed Sean Smith and pair opposite Marcus Peters. 

And I bring up the Chiefs because they were sitting at 28 waiting for that player. 

And I bring up sitting at 28 because the Steelers are being criticized for not taking the third-round pick we presume the Denver Broncos were waving at the Steelers for a chance to move up and draft QB Paxton Lynch.

We can presume it because the Broncos instead traded with team 26, the Seattle Seahawks, and did in fact move up from spot 31. 

But the Steelers didn't take the deal. They once again raced to the podium at their turn in order to draft their first-round pick, CB Artie Burns.

And this has caused much angst in Pittsburgh. 

No, not so much from the media. What do they know? This is a group that waited approximately 45 minutes to get Burns on the phone late last night and then asked him the following questions:

1. Were you surprised Pittsburgh wanted you? (No.)

2. Why not? (Mike Tomlin is cool.)

3. Who would you compare yourself to? (Patrick Peterson.)

And then the group stood around staring at the phone as the PR man shrugged and wondered if he should call this "press conference" a wrap.

"No, no, no," said our hero, as I -- I mean he -- rushed out of a seat from which he had been scrambling to fulfill a newspaper deadline. 

"Artie, tell us about your LIFE."

I mean, he is the first-round draft pick.

No, these guys for the most part had never heard of Burns, let alone known he had raised his family as a 20-year-old football player and student after his mother had died with his father in jail.

No, these guys (and gals) were just wondering why no one in the echo chamber (except one, Trib columnist Ralph Paulk) had ever mentioned him in ANALysis.

Yes, you saw what I did there. 

And here's what the columnist of the major metro in town caustically asked us readers after reporting the Steelers were, hmmmm, as happy with their first-round pick, as they had been in years past when they had drafted Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones:

"How has that worked out so far?"

Really? 

I mean ... Anyway, Ron Cook did note that "I’m going to withhold my applause until I see if Artie Burns actually can, you know, play."

See, it's uncool to, you know, watch tape that's so readily available to reporters these days on the internet. No, that's for us nerds. Ignorance of the draft while wondering about the hockey and baseball scores is way more cool.

But I digress.

No, I'm really not worried about what the Pittsburgh echo chamber thinks about a draft pick. I'm worried about what my readers think. And they had heard of Burns. I helped make sure of that. Throughout the process he had been a sleeper first-round pick. I even gave him 8-1 odds to land with the Steelers, and those odds weren't too far off the favorite, Eli Apple, at 6-1. And Burns had been vetted on our message boards as well.

But, still, the anger rolled in. One reader even called Burns "Troy Edwards," in honor of the reach Tom Donahoe made in 1999 when -- and I learned this a few days ago -- they had the great Jevon Kearse ON THE PHONE AT THE TIME. 

They also had a guy named Hines Ward on the bench at the time, and with all due respect to Ross Cockrell and Doran Grant, I don't see Super Bowl MVP or Pro Bowls in either of their futures.

"But the draft analysts called Burns a mid-rounder!"

And to that I say the same thing: Let the draft analysts pound salt.

I went back to the two analysts from whom I had purchased reference material. Nolan Nawrocki calls Burns a fourth to fifth-rounder and Kyle Crabbs calls him a fifth-rounder.

But one of the guys who predicted the Steelers would draft Burns in the first round, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, labeled him a first or second-rounder and called Burns a "Premium athlete," who "Wakes up every morning with natural ball skills to flip the field. ... Has soft hands and catch radius of a receiver when it is time to take the ball away," and that his "Length and physicality from press can be extremely disruptive. Burst on the throw is NFL-worthy."

So you can find an analyst to praise or rip any player if you look hard enough. 

Zierlein did leave this nugget to help us understand the Steelers' thinking:

"NFL teams often draft on traits at the cornerback spot and assume that coaching will take care of the rest."

Yes, Burns obviously has traits the Steelers prefer. Even Crabbs said Burns "has ample potential as a cover-2 corner."

That's where Mike Tomlin has been taking this team, and he HAD to have some cornerback help to continue in that direction.

Hey, I'm not above my own criticism. I was leery of the pick - until the avalanche of hate started to roll in from much of Steelers Nation. I've always taken the underdog's side and that avalanche has seemingly forced me once again into that role. 

And I'll say this about the criticism that the Steelers have "reached" with this pick:

Over the years, GM Kevin Colbert has learned that teams must reach for quarterbacks, offensive tackles and cornerbacks. He was fortunate to have a quarterback fall into his lap, and he appears to have solved his OT problem with the second-round drafting of Marcus Gilbert (whom I had criticized as "a reach") and the rapid development of street pickup Alejandro Villanueva. So he's gotten lucky there, it appears. But after so many years of passing at the cornerback position instead of reaching, Colbert finally took the plunge on a 6-foot, world-class hurdler (hmmm, I can't recall any of those types in Pittsburgh) who has had poor coaching, a poor life and is still only 20 years old (at least until Sunday.) He also led the ACC with six interceptions last season.

Could Colbert have traded back to Denver and still drafted Burns?

We'll never know that, but we do know that after Seattle traded out of its spot, the Chiefs traded out of theirs. 

Maybe there weren't any more cornerbacks left in that particular tier, or block grouping. Maybe by waiting the Steelers would've lost out on a chance to patch a barren wasteland on their depth chart and would've had to make another reach in the second round and this time it wouldn't have been for a 6-foot world-class hurdler with arms like vines and hands like velcro, but another 5-8 slot player.

Maybe.

We won't know that. But it was time. It was time to pick a cornerback. The rest is up to the coach. And of course the player.


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