Now that the 2019 season is over, with a team other than ours having been crowned champion and there being much work to do to return to that status, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: CB Justin Layne
Stock Value: Up
During most seasons, even for a rookie, a cornerback with the pedigree of Justin Layne’s would perhaps be considered a failure if he were not able to get playing time in the Steelers’ secondary. Pittsburgh fielded the best defensive backfield in 2019 that it has had in a long time, however, and will have the same personnel in 2020, so it will be difficult for him to get on the field even in his second season.
Joe Haden, now a decade into his professional career, made the Pro Bowl last season with five interceptions, and yet Steven Nelson, signed in free agency, may have been every bit as good, if not quite as impactful with the splash plays. Mike Hilton had a good bounceback season of sorts in the slot, and Cameron Sutton ably mopped up any other snaps he could get. They even got a halfway decent game out of Artie Burns.
So just because Layne was drafted in the third round as an underclassman doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to play. But he has the chance to force their hands. At the very least, he was able to finish the season as an active player, making his presence felt on special teams, and that’s the first thing you have to do as a young player to get noticed.
It’s hard to see where the opening is for him, at least immediately, but it’s far better to have cornerback depth and not need it than the reverse, which is a position that they have found themselves in a few too many times in recent years than they would care to admit.
One would hope at the least that Layne can battle Sutton this offseason to secure the top outside backup role for himself in 2020. Sutton would likely still command snaps in sub-packages as a slot defender over him, but if Haden or Nelson were to be injured, he could start on the outside in place of them as Burns did last year. Sutton has a couple of starts on the outside as well, however.