Steelers’ Mike Tomlin on Not Drafting Ball-Hawking Safety: ‘I Kick Myself Often’

Kevin Byard

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans after breaking up a pass against the New Orleans Saints on November 14, 2021.

In the 2016 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers made a concerted effort to try to upgrade their secondary, selecting Miami cornerback Artie Burns in the first round before looking for help at safety in round two. Ultimately the Steelers picked Sean Davis (Maryland) No. 58 overall, who appeared in 64 games for Pittsburgh over the next five years.

Davis’ NFL career is hanging by a thread; he has played in five games this season with three different teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals. And on Sunday the Steelers will go against the free safety Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wishes he had selected in the second round in 2016. Namely Kevin Byard, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the first pick in the third round (No. 64 overall).

The latest Steelers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Steelers newsletter here!

Mike Tomlin: ‘I (Should) Know Better’

“I can’t say enough about three-one,” said Tomlin on Tuesday afternoon, referring to Byard’s jersey number. “He was a ball guy when he came out of Middle (Tennessee State). I kick myself often when you think about a guy that has played the way he has played since he has been in the league,” he added, before noting that Byard was not invited to the NFL Combine, even though he authored 19 career interceptions for the Blue Raiders, four of which he returned for touchdowns.

“I (should) know better,” continued Tomlin. “A guy with double-digit interceptions in college—usually the ball is not hitting them in the face—they have some skills that are displayed and they are going to get it.”

Indeed Byard has continued to “go get it” since launching his NFL career. He has five interceptions this year, plus a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, not to mention a sack and 66 total tackles (44 solo). Now in his sixth season, the 28-year-old has 23 career interceptions, including eight in 2017, when he was named first-team All-Pro. Byard has been durable, too, starting all of Tennessee’s games since he became a full-time first-stringer in ’17.

Of course, the Steelers have since found a first-team All-Pro solution of their own in free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, parting with a first-round pick to acquire him via trade.

As for Artie Burns, he’s still in the league, but not exactly thriving. Burns has appeared in eight games for the Chicago Bears this season, with 17 total tackles (14 solo) and two passes defensed. The Bears signed him to a one-year contract in the spring of 2020 but he suffered a torn ACL in training camp that year. Burns re-upped with the Bears in March 2021 but was released as part of the final round of roster cuts on August 31, 2021, only to be re-signed two days later.

Ex-Steelers OLB Bud Dupree Designated for Return

On Wednesday December 15 the Titans moved former Steelers first-round pick Bud Dupree to the “Designated for Return from Injured Reserve” list, clearing his return to practice. Dupree has been on the Reserve/Injured list since November 20, having suffered an abdominal injury during a game against the New Orleans Saints on November 14.

Dupree signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Titans in March 2021. He has played in just seven games this season, with two starts. During that time, he has recorded seven total tackles, with one sack, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

The Titans have received more production from former Steelers outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi, who signed with Tennessee on March 22, 2021. Adeniyi has appeared in 12 games for the Titans and has 20 total tackles, plus 2.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits.

Follow the Heavy on Steelers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!

Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger Among Rooney Sportsmanship Award Nominees