Bears Can Reap Nice Benefit by Salvaging Artie Burns

Gene Chamberlain

Reclamation projections in the NFL rarely occur, at least not on the scale the Bears hope they achieve with cornerback Artie Burns.

There is too much attention paid to players' skills by scouts in the beginning and later by coaches to not know if a player has the ability.

They Bears need to take Burns back to the 2016 and 2017 seasons, when the arrow trended up before he stepped into an elevator without a floor. 

In the last two years, and particularly in 2018, Burns went from a first-round draft pick with promise to an utter disaster.

In 2018, Burns allowed a passer rating against of 143.2 when targeted, and it was a figure inflated by the culmination of five completions he allowed. They went for touchdown passes. Challenging Burns didn't necessarily mean always winning because he allowed 64% completions that year when targeted. But when five of the 16 completions went for touchdowns you had to like your chances for a big play.

It's the reason he went from a 2017 starter to starting just six out of the 16 games that season.

If Burns had never shown the ability, then the Steelers would have found it a simple matter of never playing him.

However, Burns' first two years were nothing like the last two.

As a rookie, he started nine times. In 2017 he started every game. Pro Football Focus gave him grades of 67.6 and 70.5. Both are solid numbers and the 67.6 for a rookie is 20 points higher than Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller managed as a rookie.

In his first two years Burns had 26 passes defensed and made four interceptions. He was on a path to success, and then in 2018 the bottom fell out and the Steelers declined to pick up his fifth-year contract option as a first-round draft pick.

There was much speculation it had to do with problems in his personal life, his mother dying while his father was in prison.

"It's really a confidence issue with Artie," Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said on the Cook & Joe Show on the Fan.

Can a cornerback even recover confidence after such a miserable performance? This is, after all, a position where confidence means everything.

Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller bounced back from not getting his contract option picked up but with Fuller there never had been a decline in his play like Burns experienced. Fuller had a solid 70.5 passer in 2015 before he suffered a knee injury and missed a season, then took a big step up.

Burns played right cornerback in Pittsburgh and he has an opportunity at the same position with the Bears. It's a spot where there is no real favorite, although most feel rookie Jaylon Johnson could eventually take over as starter.

However, Burns has to get fundamentally sound almost overnight. He committed one fundamental blunder after another in his coverage in 2018, then played mostly special teams or sat in 2019.

The 2018 decline was no fluke, either. Burns came back out in 2019 in his reserve role early and got beat four times for completions, including a touchdown. Then he wasn't heard from again.

Burns' strength was man-to-man coverage coming out of Miami and not necessarily zone, and with the Steelers he played a great deal of zone.

He also is going to see plenty of zone and even split coverage with the Bears, who played only about a quarter man coverage last year according to Pro Football Focus.

Burns can't be a wild gambler, either. The Bears are careful about this. Under Pagano they allowed even fewer touchdown passes last year (17) than in 2018 (22).

Whatever the reason for the decline, it's thought Burns could benefit greatly from a fresh start.

It's hard to see how he could be worse.

Artie Burns at a Glance

Miami CB

Height: 6-foot

Weight: 197

Key Number: Although he ran a 4.46-second 40 at the combine, Burns had only a 31 1/2-inch vertical leap.

Roster Chances: 2.5 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most.

2020 Projection: Backup cornerback.

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