As the Pittsburgh Steelers lost one Michigan State player this offseason, they went out in the draft to get another, adding cornerback Justin Layne with their second of two third-round picks, the 83rd selection overall. And he told reporters that he felt that was what was going to happen all along.
“I felt that from the beginning”, he said of the Steelers’ interest in picking him. “I talked to the coaching staff, Coach Tomlin a lot at the Combine. Even at my pre-draft visits, I kind of had a feeling and knew they were going to get me”. He added that he even had a dream about the Steelers taking him, that the Cleveland Browns’ rivals—his family grew up Browns fans—would be the ones to draft him.
The Steelers did not draft a cornerback at all last season, but this does mark the fourth time in the past five drafts in which they have used a selection in the first two days of the draft to address the position. They drafted Cameron Sutton in the third round in 2017 after selecting Artie Burns in the first round in 2016, and Senquez Golson was a second-round pick in 2015.
Truth be told, Layne was not thrilled about where he ended up going—not the team, but the spot in the draft. “I expected to go in the second round but it’s all good”, he told reporters during his conference call after being selected. “They’re going to feel me. It’s all good”.
He was the 10th of 11 cornerbacks chosen on the first two days of the draft, including the ninth of 10 selected on Day Two after only one—Deandre Baker—was selected in the first round. Seven cornerbacks would be drafted in the second round, including six in the first 14 picks, but none were drafted between pick 22 in round two and pick 16 in round three when the Los Angeles Rams scooped up David Long out of Michigan, Layne’s state rivals.
This was an interesting group of cornerbacks where the talent level really seemed to bunched into that second- to third-round region, so to see the draft break as it did isn’t necessarily a shock, where the abundance of players at the position would go off the board in the second round, including the first two picks of the round.
Layne, 6’2”, has drawn some comparisons in his game to Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III, whom the Steelers were targeting in the first round in 2016 before their division rivals selected him one pick ahead of them, so it’s not surprising that Pittsburgh would have also been interested in the Spartan.
He lacks elite speed and quickness and can allow separation. These limitations will be stressed at the NFL level, but the Steelers and defensive backs coaches Teryl Austin (who attended his Pro Day) and Tom Bradley believe they will be able to work with him to bolster their secondary.