How secure should Artie Burns feel in his starting role during training camp?
When Artie Burns was drafted, it was met with scrutiny. Burns was raw, and many anticipated the raw upside prospect to fall to a lower draft slot.
However, the negative criticism came with the understanding that if things did click for Burns, the pick would be looked at as phenomenal. He is what you want in a cornerback in terms of physical stature and athletic ability.
Entering year three, the debate rages on. Burns has proven the upside and shown why he has been a first-round cornerback. PFF graded him as above average, and over the first half of the season was top five in yards per target.
However, over the second half of the season, we began to see why the pick was met with so much criticism. His play began to fall off. So much so to the point where the Steelers flirted with the idea of benching Burns for Cameron Sutton right before the playoffs.
Still, when Haden came back, the Steelers were intrigued enough by Sutton to at least debate swapping him in for Burns to see if they could find magic.
The one area where this team likely covets Sutton over Burns is communication and understanding. Sutton was a team captain and a communicator on the back end of his defense at Tennessee.
Artie Burns was a man cornerback at Miami who had little football experience, spending his offseasons as a track athlete. When it comes to finding his man, following him around and shutting him down, Burns can do it.
When it comes to the nuances of play action, complexed coverages, and passing off assignments, Burns struggles. Notice the two examples below.
First, we see Marcus Mariota look him off at the bottom of the screen. You can see Burns watch the quarterback, break deep, and then immediately halt on the brakes. Burns realizes he just left his man and gave up an easy first down completion.
Below the Steelers are in Cover-3. Burns has the deep sideline, Mike Mitchell has the deep middle. When the receiver cuts towards the middle, Burns passes him off but pays no mind to his presence beyond that. As he curls back into the zone of Burns, Burns has his eyes in the backfield and is watching a man who ran right past him catch a pass in his zone.
In the second half of last season, the Steelers communication on defense completely broke down. Mike Mitchell was in and out of the lineup with injuries. We all know about Ryan Shazier, and Joe Haden missed time as mentioned. These were the three veteran communicators on the unit.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have identified that this was their downfall in 2017, and have put resources into that effort in 2018. They signed Jon Bostic, Morgan Burnett, and drafted Terrell Edmunds. We have done profiles on all three exhibiting their strong communication tactics.
So, on one hand, you can argue that with a healthy Haden and added communication that Burns may not be as big of a liability. On the other hand, this could be a new page for the Steelers, where they choose a player who knows his role and knows how to communicate the defense over the high upside athlete with questionable knowledge.
At first glance, it would be crazy for a first-round rookie to see camp competition in year three from a third rounder entering year two with minimal experience. However, Burns should be entering this season knowing that if he does not take a step forward in his understanding, the team does have an option ready to replace him with.
How the team handles these two should be something to monitor in camp.