Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is widely regarded as one of the best—if not the best—general managers in the NFL. Certainly the Steelers have made relatively few catastrophic personnel/drafting mistakes in recent years, at least as compared to most other clubs. But in looking at every NFL team’s worst mistake of the past five years, Chris Roling of Bleacher Report says one Steelers move looks worse than the rest, namely the decision to select cornerback Artie Burns with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Burns actually demonstrated the potential to be a long-term starter during his first two seasons in the NFL, with the Steelers frequently matching him up against All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown during practices to prepare him for the rigors of the league. In 2016-17, Burns appeared in all 32 of Pittsburgh’s regular-season games, with 25 starts. During those two years he was responsible for 119 total tackles (99 solo), with four interceptions, 26 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
But in 2018-19 his play cratered; in fact, during those seasons he was targeted 29 times and allowed 20 completions, six of which went for touchdowns. That helps explain why he was in on just 30% of the defensive snaps in 2018 and a mere 6% in 2019, the season after the Steelers declined to pick up his fifth-year option.
Making the decision to select Burns is all the more painful because the next cornerback off the board in 2016—Xavien Howard (Baylor), who went to the Miami Dolphins No. 38 overall—has developed into a shutdown corner. Last season Howard finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, behind winner Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) and runner-up T.J. Watt.
Artie Burns Abandoned His Escalade at the Pittsburgh Airport on His Way Out of Town
Artie Burns’ NFL career did not come to an end when the Steelers elected to let him go. In March 2020, he signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears, abandoning Pittsburgh—along with his Cadillac Escalade—in hopes of resurrecting his career in a new city. But he suffered a torn ACL during training camp last summer, and he spent the entire 2020 season on injured reserve.
The Bears have not yet given up on the 26-year-old, who played his college football for the Miami Hurricanes. Four months ago, Chicago signed him to another one-year contract, giving him the opportunity to show he has recovered from his knee injury.
Steelers Taking Advantage of Other So-Called ‘Biggest Mistakes’?
Meanwhile, the Steelers have proven to be the beneficiaries of what Roling regards as the Miami Dolphins’ worst mistake of the past five years: the decision to trade first-round safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers early in the 2019 season.
At one point, the Steelers hoped to get something out of Denver’s biggest mistake: the decision to draft Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch in 2016.
Lynch spent time with Pittsburgh in 2019 and 2020 but was unable to beat out Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges or Josh Dobbs for the third-string QB job. His NFL career now appears to be over; last month he signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL, where he is competing for a job with a group of quarterbacks that includes Tom Flacco (the younger brother of former Baltimore Ravens starter Joe Flacco), who went undrafted in 2020 after a college career that included stops at three schools, including Towson.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are still hoping to take advantage of Washington’s so-called ‘biggest mistake’: that is, drafting quarterback Dwayne Haskins No. 15 overall in 2019.
Pittsburgh signed Haskins to a one-year Reserve/Future contract back in January. He has since earned positive notice from coaches and teammates alike, including Steelers starting QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has marveled at certain aspects of Haskins’ throwing ability.
Washington head Ron Rivera recently admitted taking the “wrong approach” with Haskins; Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has spoken about taking an entirely different approach with the 24-year-old Haskins, who threw 50 touchdown passes for Ohio State in 2018, good enough for him to finish third in the Heisman Trophy race that year.