Almost every single mock draft had the Pittsburgh Steelers taking a cornerback in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft — it’s just that none of those mock drafts had the Steelers taking Artie Burns, cornerback out of Miami Univeristy, with that pick.
So, as Burns gets ready to don the black and gold, here’s a little bit about who he is.
Burns is a top-notch athlete, who has speed to spare (he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the Combine.) He came to college as a highly touted recruit in both football and track and field, and he competed in both sports with the Hurricanes. He uses that speed to his advantage in games — especially on the burst on the throw — and he backs it up with good hands and an ability to read opposing quarterbacks well. With the Hurricanes, he led the ACC in interceptions (6) and had 36 tackles (25 solo), five pass break-ups (PBUs) and one fumble recovery, all of which he did despite playing in a cornerback rotation. (You can watch highlights here.)
Pittsburgh General Manager Kevin Colbert said that Burns was the “best bump-and-run corner” in the draft and that he was an “easy decision at (No.) 25.”
Off the field, Burns has gone through a lot, but he seems to have handled everything life has thrown at him. His father is incarcerated (cocaine trafficking), and his mother, Dana Smith, passed away last year from a heart attack at age 44, leaving Burns as the sole guardian of two younger brothers (Thomas, 16, and Jordan, 13) — on top of being the guardian for his own young son.
After Miami set up a GoFundMe page to help cover funeral costs, Hurricanes fans raised more than $40,000 in six hours, and the team and community showed their love and support — going so far as to wear shirts made in Smith’s honor.
When he declared for the draft, Burns said that role as custodian and provider factored into his decision to leave with a year of eligibility left. He wrote: “Due to my mom’s sudden passing and my father being incarcerated, I now have custody of my two younger brothers and my son to raise. It is my responsibility to be the financial supporter my family needs to continue our day-to-day lives.”