Tim Benz: For Steelers’ Artie Burns, it’s time for talent to prevail | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz
Steelers cornerback Artie Burns breaks up a pass intended for the Patriots' Brandin Cooks during the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.

It’s our second installment of “Stairway to Seven.” Seven Steelers in seven days who could elevate the team to from what they were a year ago to a potential seventh Super Bowl championship.

Not the Killer B’s. Not Cam Heyward. Not the standout offensive line. Guys who have more to give that can help close the gap between the Steelers and another title which has eluded them for a decade now.

Today’s nominee is cornerback Artie Burns.

You can read about Joe Haden to get some of the defensive numbers as to why the corners need to be better.

But would it surprise you, as it did me, that Pro Football Focus gave Burns a better grade for his 2017 campaign than it did Haden?

The NFL analytics site graded Burns as the 43rd best corner in football . That’s slightly above average. Haden was ranked at No. 51, in the average category.

In Jack-Johnson-esque fashion via the hockey world, this may be where the analytics and the eye test go in divergent directions.

When they were both healthy, I can’t see how the argument can be made that Burns was better than Haden. Based on how he looked in the second half of the season, I also can’t see how Burns could be called above average, given that the Steelers were considering benching the former first-round pick in favor of Cam Sutton heading into the Texans game on Christmas.

Whatever good tape and grades Burns acquired likely hinged on his play early in the season. For the first month or so, Burns looked like he had improved on a rookie season that showed progress toward the end of 2016.

Facing some ragged quarterbacks — and playing behind a front seven that seemed to have a better pass rush early in the season — aided the second year corner from Miami.

However, a midseason lull that started in late October with some rough games against the Lions, Colts and Titans left Steelers fans wondering if Burns’ job could be in jeopardy come training camp if Sutton continues his upward trajectory.

It may not just be the fans wondering that. I bet the coaches are considering that prospect, too.

Like Haden, Burns had just one interception last year. That needs to change. Especially for a corner who takes a fair amount of chances.

As we have seen with Jarvis Jones and now Bud Dupree, after the third year, it’s fair to start asking if a former first-round pick with this many questions is worth keeping around for his fifth-year option. In a perfect world, Burns will render that decision moot six months from now.

Much like his 2016 draft partner in crime, Sean Davis, potential needs to stop being potential. It needs to manifest into talent, production, and consistency if the Steelers’ defense has any prayer of improving on last year’s results.

That starts at corner. And that starts with Artie Burns.

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