The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their issues drafting corners over the pas ten years. The poster boy for this is of course Artie Burns. News has come out recently that the team will not pick up Burns fifth year option. It appears the team is ready to part ways with perhaps the worst first round pick of Kevin Colbert’s regime. Things have gotten so bad, Burns has had trouble just getting on the field at all. He couldn’t even beat out the likes of journeyman Coty Sensabaugh for playing time last season. So how did this happen? What led to the Steelers making such a huge mistake with the twenty fifth overall pick in 2016?
Let’s begin with the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers, and their roster. This team actually went into the 2015 post-season with William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin, and Ross Cockrell as their primary corners. The safeties weren’t exactly All-Pro material either in Mike Mitchell and Will Allen. Let those names sink in for a minute. The Steelers played a road playoff game against the Denver Broncos with Antwon Blake as a starting corner….. and nearly won the game. The 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers secondary was historically bad…..epically bad…..really, really bad. To no one’s surprise, they finished the regular season 30th in passing yards against that season. Massive changes were needed and everyone knew it. Everyone including owner Art Rooney II, who basically demanded an upgrade in his annual post season press conference. The pressure was now on for Kevin Colbert and company to overhaul this team’s secondary.
That offseason, seventeen of the thirty pre-draft visits were defensive backs for the Steelers. It was clear the team would invest heavily in the secondary during the draft. Especially considering Colbert did nothing in free agency to address the problem. On the eve of the draft there were rumors the Steelers had a strong interest in the University of Houston corner William Jackson III. He was a blazing fast (4.37/40) corner with the length the Steelers love at cornerback. Jackson was only a one year starter, finishing his season with five interceptions. It seemed a forgone conclusion that he would be available at twenty five when the Steelers selected. Jackson did last all the way to pick twenty four, before the division rival Bengals snatched him up. This is where it all went wrong.
It’s simple really, the Steelers panicked. They had to have a corner in the first round. The owner all but mandated it. So instead of all the blabber about not drafting for need, Kevin Colbert did just that and reached for Artie Burns. There is no way Burns could have been the next best player on the team’s entire draft board. It is troubling enough they had him rated higher than Xavier Howard at corner, let alone higher than any other player left in the draft. To make matters worse, Colbert could have easily traded out of this pick. The Broncos traded up to pick twenty six to draft Paxton Lynch. Denver gave up a third round pick to move up from their spot at thirty one. It’s almost too depressing to think the Steelers could have traded down to thirty one and selected Xavier Howard, then used the extra third rounder to select Justin Simmons at safety. Instead the desperate Steelers stood pat and drafted Burns and Sean Davis, the rest is history.
Kevin Colbert seems to have learned something from the 2016 draft. The team has had a glaring need at linebacker since the Ryan Shazier injury. Colbert did not force the issue last year and reach for a linebacker once the top guys were gone. This year, Colbert moved up and took the best player in Devin Bush, rather than waiting to see who would fall to him. Learning from your mistakes is key for any front office in sports. Steelers have certainly learned a lot form the Artie Burns draft.