View Full Version : Speedy return on investment could come from cornerback Burnett

Galax Steeler
04-30-2009, 03:50 AM
Joe Burnett is a different type of cornerback from the one the Steelers drafted two rounds before him. He is smaller, less physical and, for at least the time being, not a player who is going to linein press coverage and bump some NFL receivers at the line of scrimmage.

The Steelers already had drafted that type of cornerback when they took Oregon State's Keenan Lewis, 6 feet 1, 208 pounds, in the third round. They wanted a different type of cornerback when they selected Burnett, 5-9, 192 pounds, in the fifth round.

And they got him.

"He has a chance to do something when he gets the ball in his hands," said George O'Leary, Burnett's head coach at the University of Central Florida. "He makes plays."

Burnett is a defensive playmaker, an athletic cornerback who intercepted 16 passes and also returned five kicks -- three punts, two kickoffs --for touchdowns in four seasons at Central Florida.

He was so quick as a basketball guard at Eustis (Fla.) High School that he was nominated for the McDonald's All-America game. And he was so athletic as a cornerback in college that Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton referred to him as a defensive version of Antwaan Randle El.

"Hopefully, on the defensive side, that is what he can be -- a guy who can do a multitude of things for us," Horton said. "When you look at him statistically, he is very productive. He is a guy who was a playmaker for them, and we expect him to be a playmaker for us in a multitude of ways."

The Steelers can only hope Burnett will be the same type of playmaker as Randle El, especially as a returner. That was one of the reasons they drafted him with the 168th overall pick: To improve their kick- and punt-return units that ranked 29th and 31st, respectively, in the NFL in 2008.

Burnett returned 26 punts for 378 yards (14.5 avg.) and 26 kickoffs for 745 yards (28.7 avg.) with two touchdowns last season at Central Florida. He was named first-team All-Conference USA as a cornerback, punt-returner and kick-returner.

"He was a good athlete to begin with, and you saw steady improvement each year," O'Leary said yesterday from his office in Orlando, Fla. "He got better with some of his coverage skills. He's not afraid to be on an island out there. He's like all those kids with a lot of confidence -- he welcomes that. And he does all the things that kids who make it [to the NFL] do. He always wanted to know what he could do to get better."

The Steelers envision Burnett as a nickel back who will use his athletic skills to react to the ball and make interceptions. Several scouting reports said he plays well in zone defense where he is adept at passing receivers off in coverage and instinctively breaking on the ball.

In that sense, he is a different type of player than Lewis, who has the physical skills to play on the edge and help in run support.

"Keenan Lewis is a player who can do some things that you like to do in the NFL, especially with the type of receivers that are in the league right now," Horton said. "Joe is the type of player who isn't as big as Keenan, but he is a guy who is a little more elusive and a better athlete at the ball with his return abilities. It is a good mix having a big, strong corner and having a smaller, athletic corner. It's a good balance to have on your team."

And Burnett, a four-year starter at Central Florida, doesn't mind the competition for the fourth cornerback spot with Lewis. It all starts tomorrow when the three-day minicamp for rookies begins at the Steelers' South Side facility.

"Now that the draft is over, from the first slots to the seventh round, every guy has to come in and compete and work for a position," Burnett said. "Now, we're at the moment where we have to go in and work for a job. It doesn't end right here. That's how I feel about it.

"I went in the fifth round, but I feel like I'm in the same boat as the third-round pick at cornerback. He and I are competing now for the job. And I want the job."

O'Leary, who was defensive coordinator for two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, beginning in 2002, said he thought Burnett would be a good fit for the Steelers, even before they drafted him. He said he saw Burnett as "an athletic nickel back" who would work well in their defensive schemes.

It didn't hurt, either, that Burnett is the type of high-character player the Steelers seem to embrace.

"You wish you had more of those kinds of kids," O'Leary said. "It wasn't just how he performed on the field, but off the field, too. He's a class kid. He was never in my office with any kind of problem."


04-30-2009, 08:46 AM
I thought that Burnett was one of the better picks in the draft. I think that he will always be that nickel corner but I think because he has that drop and wait style he will pick off quite a few passes from that spot. He was personally my favorite pick and I think that in a year or two he will explode.

04-30-2009, 08:52 AM
i'm excited to see him get back and return some punts and kickoffs

04-30-2009, 09:49 AM
Is he another Antoine Winfield (5'9" 180)?

Be nice, but I doubt it...

04-30-2009, 09:51 AM
Is he another Antoine Winfield (5'9" 180)?

Be nice, but I doubt it...

Nope. He's Smokin' Joe Burnett. :chuckle:

El-Gonzo Jackson
04-30-2009, 12:27 PM
Great moves IMO. If you think that both DeShea Townsend and Keiwan Ratliff's contracts expire after this season.....these are there 2 replacements for 2010.

Kind of reminds me of 10-12 years ago when we drafted Townsend and Jason Simmons in the same year. Got a starter and nickel back out of that one and hopefully the same here.

04-30-2009, 07:02 PM
Good point I forgot about the Townsend, Simmons draft. Good comparison. I think it will work out really well for the Steelers.

Galax Steeler
05-01-2009, 03:20 AM
i'm excited to see him get back and return some punts and kickoffs

I would love to see him turn out to be a great return man. That is the demention we have been missing for a long time.

05-01-2009, 03:07 PM
Burnett will prove to be an awesome pick by the Steelers. He the next one in the line of under the radar mid-round draft picks out of UCF in recent years to explode onto the scene (Asante Samuel, Brandon Marshall anyone?)

Here's to Joe Burnett being the kick returner Steeler fans have been craving for years! :drink:

05-02-2009, 08:37 AM
So will he start returning punts for us next season? I kind of liked Santonio being back there, he was exciting to watch. But we better not risk injury I guess. As long as this guy can hold on to the ball, let's see what he's got.