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Steelers select cornerback in first round of 2016 NFL Draft

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin throws a challenge flag during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin throws a challenge flag during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh. AP photo

Relief is on the way.

A Steelers secondary synonymous with getting carved apart got a defensive back Thursday in the 2016 NFL Draft’s first round.

Miami cornerback Artie Burns is the first defensive back taken by the Steelers in the first round since the team selected Troy Polamalu 16th overall in 2003. The defense allowed opposing quarterbacks to combine for a 92.55 passer rating the last two seasons, often unable to create turnovers, once a staple of the secondary.

Burns was selected with the 25th overall pick.

He intercepted seven passes and defended 14 in three seasons. The Miami cornerback picked off six passes in his junior year, which caught the attention of scouts after just one in his first 22 games. He was also a track star for the Hurricanes.

“While his tape is average and (his) technique can be non-existent at times, NFL teams often draft on traits at the cornerback spot and assume that coaching will take care of the rest,” his NFL Draft profile said. “Burns has length, speed, ball skills and abundant potential. Keep in mind he was limited in his growth at the position thanks to a spring track schedule, but he is still in the infant stages of reaching his pro potential.”

Pittsburgh lost two of its top four cornerbacks in Antwan Blake and Brandon Boykin to free agency and released Cortez Allen, who was the team’s highest paid defensive back with a $26 million contract. Allen also played only 26 snaps last season due to poor performance in practices and nagging injuries. The team has also struggled to replace Polamalu at strong safety.

Burns will compete with William Gay, Ross Cockrell and 2015 second-round pick Senquez Golson (who was placed on injured reserve before last season) for playing time.

The Steelers may look for a defensive lineman to clog the line of scrimmage later in the draft. The Steelers had the 6th best yards per run attempt against last season, but that was largely due to defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt playing the majority of the team’s defensive snaps.

Heyward played more snaps, 1,116 according to Football Outsiders, than any other defensive lineman in the NFL in 2015. Tuitt was 11th on the list with 990 downs. The wear and tear got to them.

Pittsburgh’s sack leaders, with 13.5 combined, were largely ineffective (just one quarterback hit between them) against the Super Bowl Champion Broncos in the playoffs.

The team could also look to boost depth at outside linebacker, safety, tight end and along the offensive line.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli

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