Through the first three picks the Steelers seem to be filling in the holes. All three picks so far have filled a need. Linebacker, wide receiver and defensive back were all areas where they were looking to bring in younger players to compete for starting jobs.
The Michigan State product had a lot of good buzz entering the draft with some even mentioning him in the first round conversation. That didn’t happen and even through the second round when seven defensive backs came off the board his name still hadn’t been called.
Justin Layne is a one of a few defensive backs in this draft that are converted receivers but didn’t last on offense very long. He’s a young turning 21 in January and has very good length. The Steelers had a good group at the Spartans pro day that included GM Kevin Colbert and Defensive Assistant Teryl Austin.
Daniel Jeremiah Top 100 had him listed at number 91 and Gil Brandt’s Hot 150 had him listed at number 57.
Lance Zierlein from NFL.com had him as a second round projection and compared him to William Jackson and had this to say, “Ascending bump-and-run cornerback with rare size and length who leans on good movement skills to overcome his average long speed. Although he plays with good route recognition, he’ll allow some separation from breaks, but he’s quick to hug-up and close the restrict the throwing window. He’s not a burner, but he uses his size ball skills to make plays on the football down the field. Layne’s traits could make him a fit in a variety of coverages, but he needs consistent toughness to help support against the run.”
Nick Farabaugh had him at number 92 and said this, “Layne is rawer than people would have you believe but the man can play. His natural athleticism and length is not to be forgotten, but his overzealous jabs and shoddy footwork are big issues I have with his game. Why is this high then? Ball skills and instincts are absolutely there and I think he has a lot of potential that can be harnessed.”
Sports Illustrated had him listed as the #15 DB (he was the 10th taken) and described him as “A converted wide receiver still learning the position, Layne has ideal length (33-inch arms) and the fluid athleticism to mirror more effectively than most big corners. As he becomes more instinctive and begins making more plays on the ball, he could emerge as a quality starter with a chance to top out as a star.”
From the notes above you can see that while he has good size, speed and athletic traits there is still work to be done. The Steelers in recent history have struggled to develop DB’s but there may be a light on the horizon. Most of that lack of development was done but different coaches. DB coach Tom Bradley is in his second year and Austin was brought in this year to help with a focus on the defensive backfield.
Overall: Layne is a player with very good physical traits and a good upside and based on where the above had him ranked getting him at pick number 83 is a solid value pick. The numbers indicate he would be a day two pick and that is where he went.