He was on the radar as a possible Steelers first-round draft pick. But I didn’t listen to my instincts.
I felt if the top corners were gone, the Steelers would look to the safety position. Little did I realize that Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal would also go ahead of Pittsburgh’s pick.
That left the Steelers with the choice of Mackensie Alexander - a small corner who showed no ball skills in college - or their choice of some of the best defensive tackles, or Burns, who they had rated as the fourth-best corner on their board.
The Steelers would have gladly taken William Jackson III with their pick. But Cincinnati, despite a need at wide receiver and defensive tackle, took a corner in the first round for seemingly the 17th year in a row.
So the Steelers passed on the defensive tackles and took the corner, despite having a slightly higher grade on a couple of the defensive tackles.
General manager Kevin Colbert said he had a premonition Wednesday that Burns was going to be the pick because that’s how he felt the draft was going to fall. And it came to fruition.
I don’t hate the pick of Burns. I think he has the potential to be a good football player down the road. But, much like when they took Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 draft, the Steelers took a player who is not yet the sum of his parts. They took a player based on down-the-road potential rather than a guy who they could plug into a hole to play now.
That would have been one of the tackles. With Jarran Reed, Andrew Billings, A’Shawn Robinson and Vernon Butler all still available, the Steelers took a pass and selected a cornerback in the first round for the first time since 1997.
And they seemed intent on breaking that string.
It’s tough to say Burns was a reach. The difference in this draft between player No. 11 or so and player No. 70 is negligible. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder in that regard.
And if the Steelers are fortunate enough to get their defensive tackle - one of the aforementioned players or Austin Johnson of Penn State or Javon Hargrave of South Carolina State - they will have done well.
But, as always, drafts are measured on the success of the first round pick.
And fans will have to watch Jackson play for the hated Bengals for the next few years - and gnash their teeth if he becomes a star.
Burns is a high-character kid. He’s raising his two younger brothers after his mother died last October. His father is in prison serving a 25-year term for drug trafficking.
But rather than break up the family, he intends on raising his siblings in Pittsburgh.
He also was a champion hurdler who has only gotten serious about football in the past few years. As head coach Mike Tomlin said, he’s got a lot of upside.
For a team that has an aging quarterback and a championship window that is closing in the next few years, it will be interesting to see how quickly Burns can get onto the field.
The need certainly is there.
• Scout’s Inc., by the way, had Burns rated as their 31st best player in this draft with a grade of 88. Eli Apple, the first corner taken, had an 89. grade. Jackson had a 90 grade.
So at least one scouting agency didn’t think Burns was a reach.
• We had Colbert on the radio after the pick and I asked him about a potential trade back. He said that the Steelers had fielded a couple of calls but didn’t feel moving back was worth the possibility of missing on their guy.
I think Burns probably would have been available at - say pick No. 31 (Denver) - but can’t say that with certainty.
As I said, you could throw a blanket over the second tier of players in this draft - the 60 after the top 10 - and there wasn’t a lot of difference. Hence some of the surprise picks in the teens, in particular.
The Steelers felt confident enough in Burns’ skills that they didn’t want to take the chance to pick up a late third-round pick, which is what Seattle got one pick later to swap spots in the first with the Broncos.
I will say this, it might have been possible to then package that late third rounder and a second-round pick to move up in the second round. But you don’t know that for sure until you pull the trigger on the move back.
It would have been a gamble, but it’s something I probably would have done.