The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Rookie cornerback Justin Layne will not play on defense unless due to injury in 2019.
Explanation: Layne, a former wide receiver but a career starter at cornerback with Michigan State, has been regarded as some as one of the best value picks in the past draft as a mid-late third-round draft pick. Some believe that he can contribute right away, or at least soon, but it’s not clear that will happen in Pittsburgh.
I will say that he will probably be the next man up after the next man up for the dime defense, but outside of that, it’s hard to see Layne getting on the field this year. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson starting at cornerback and Mike Hilton seemingly re-solidifying his hold on the nickel role, that already leaves very little opportunity for the rookie.
At this point, I think we still have to regard Cameron Sutton, entering his third season, as higher than him on the depth chart, and that includes his ability to serve as the dimebacker, which he did for a few games last season. This year, Sutton will probably the next man up at at least four positions in the secondary, including the dime, which may be Marcus Allen.
Layne is somebody who will develop in a year’s time or so. They didn’t draft him because they needed him to contribute right away. It’s not impossible that he could spend time as a healthy scratch with even Artie Burns dressing over him, to be quite frank, no matter how much that rankles the feathers of #DraftTwitter.
But one thing Layne does have the rest of the secondary doesn’t possess is a combination of size and ball skills. Brian Allen has size, but he’s never displayed any kind of playmaking ability and has failed to become a contributor for two years now. Layne, on the other hand, got his hands on about as many balls—even without a lot of interceptions—as just about any cornerback in college football last year.
With the amount that the team talked up Nelson’s versatility to play inside and outside, the possibility can’t be discounted that Layne can force his way into the lineup if his play in practice and the preseason indicates that he deserves that opportunity. There is flexibility built into their lineup that allows for that contingency.