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: Second-year cornerback Justin Layne will eventually be a starter in the NFL.
Explanation: An underclassman who was also new to the position, Justin Layne was taken late in the third round knowing that he was a prospect who would benefit from time to develop. He has the physical traits of a starting cornerback, and solid college tape.
The discussion has to start off with the fact that Layne is a talented as well as a gifted player. He has a nice combination of size and speed, athleticism, and ball skills as well. He did well in coverage particularly on deep targets during his college career, and he also appears to be open to coaching.
Every cornerback on the 53-man roster last year short of Artie Burns will still be there in 2020. They drafted him not because of desperate need—after all, he didn’t play on defense—but because they knew what kind of talent he has, and they will be looking for the opportunity, or the excuse, to get him on the field this year, as long as he demonstrates a basic understanding of the defense. From that point forward, it’s just a matter of time before he moves up in the ranks, even if it takes years, or another city.
There is no shortage of players like Layne who might have been good, or even very good, in college but who will fail to make the transition to the NFL level. No player should be judged by his rookie preseason performance, but at the very least, his play last August left a lot to be desired and plenty of room for improvement. See Curtis Brown.
Another important factor in determining these sorts of things is quite simply whether or not a player ever gets an opportunity. The Steelers have their two starting cornerbacks through at least the next two seasons. Likely, the earliest chance he would have to even compete for a starting spot would be in 2020.
A lot could happen between now and then, but if he makes it to free agency without even getting a chance to start, other teams are not going to be looking at him as a starter candidate.