It took them nearly two decades, but the Steelers finally drafted a cornerback in the first round when they chose Artie Burns of the University of Miami on Thursday night.
He became the first cornerback selected by the Steelers in the first round in 19 years, since they selected Chad Scott No. 1 in 1997. The Steelers took Burns with the 25th overall draft pick.
Burns (6-0, 193) runs the 40 in 4.42. The Steelers took Burns after their bitter division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals grabbed cornerback William Jackson III with the 24th pick.
Burns, who also runs track, led the ACC with six interceptions last season as a junior and was impressive in all of his post-season drills. He started the past two seasons at Miami and played as a true freshman in 11 games in 2013.
He played last season through a lot of tragedy and challenges after his mother died. With his father in prison, Burns was responsible for his two younger borthers along with a son of his own, 19 months old.
“He’s a solid, young man who went through a little tragedy this year with his mother passing during the season,’’ Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “He fought through that … had a solid year.
“Artie’s a special kid. He has a child and is in relationship with [the child’s mother]. He has two younger brothers who really have fallen under his care with his mother’s passing. It will be a challenge for him. I give the kid credit for what he’s doing.
“It’s a lot to undertake. It will be part of our duties to help him succeed in that venture.”
Colbert would not say whether they would have drafted Jackson had Cincinnati not done so at 24, but acknowledged that “it was breaking pretty tight. We really felt we had a chance to get a good corner.”
Burns should have a chance to start quickly in a defensive backfield that was part of the NFL’s 30th pass defense.
Three corners have left them since the end of last season, including starter Antwon Blake and nickel Brandon Boykin, who left as free agents, and Cortez Allen, who was cut. They have returning starter William Gay, backup Ross Cockrell and rookie draft picks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant. Golson had shoulder surgery and did not play last season and Grant managed just one play on defense.
The Steelers have not had a Pro Bowl cornerback since Hall of Famer Rod Woodson made it after the 1996 season for the seventh time with the Steelers.
There was a run on cornerbacks early-on in the draft, never a good sign when a team like the Steelers covets one and they have to wait until No. 25 in the round to make their choice.
However, that ended the run on them and as the picks continued to come in at other positions, it became apparent the Steelers would have their crack at either Jackson or Burns.
Mike Tomlin and Colbert had dinner with each of them before their respective Pro Days.
“There’s a lot to be excited about with Artie,’’ Tomlin said. “We’re excited about the up side. He’s a natural bump corner.
“He has elite speed, a track man also down there at Miami.”
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