The Steelers have moved on from Artie Burns, as shown in their investment into Steven Nelson and Justin Layne during the offseason and their exclusion of Burns from the defense in the second half of the 2018 season.
He’s still on the roster, for now, and unless he surprises everyone he will join Jarvis Jones as the only first-round picks of the 2010s to receive neither an extension or a fifth-year option. Burns’ problems aren’t because he can’t get the job done, it’s because he’s getting in his own way:
Back in 2017 the Steelers had enough confidence in Burns to leave him on an island in coverage just like they did with Joe Haden. Burns had shown quick development to stay within the scheme as a press cornerback and his challenges of Antonio Brown in training camp.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that Burns can be is own worst critic on some days. For some, that’s a good thing because they motivate themselves to work harder and be better at their job. But for Burns, that’s led to a complete loss of confidence, focus and a compounding of mistakes.
A perfect example is the moment when Burns ultimately lost his job as a starter. He has zone responsibility and is lined up with Tyler Boyd outside the numbers. Burns does have to make sure nobody gets behind him, but when the goal line in play, a cornerback must make that his cut off point.
Burns backs up into the end zone and allows Boyd to score on the easiest out-route touchdown of his career:
That may be the biggest coverage brain fart I’ve seen in my entire life. What’s astonishing about it is that I’ve seen Burns make several good judgment calls in coverage. He’s been good in both zone and man and going into 2018 was looking like a starter that could be a key component to the Steelers’ future.
Here he was in 2017 playing zone coverage against the Vikings. His responsibility is deep-thirds of a Cover 3 zone defense and faces the classic combination of a deep post to deep corner route. Stefon Diggs runs the post and Burns covers him up to the seam of his zone, but then retreats back to his assignment to cover Adam Thielen.
Burns undercuts the pass from Case Keenum but does just enough to swat the ball away:
Plays like this were a regular part of Burns’ tape in the late part of 2016 and most of 2017. But once the bad plays started coming in 2018, he started looking punch drunk every time he dropped back into coverage. Even when he was given a chance against the Panthers, Burns committed a pass interference penalty with just 10 snaps in a game which the Steelers had already won.
It may be too late for Burns to earn a spot on the Steelers after this season, but he needs to at least show in training camp and preseason games that he’s regained consciousness at cornerback and could make a name for himself elsewhere.
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