Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, 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
The only move the Steelers have made so far at cornerback this offseason has been to allow Artie Burns to sign elsewhere. It doesn’t seem likely that the team is going to use a draft pick on the position, either, after having used a pair of third-round picks on the position in two of the past three draft classes.
That is good news for Justin Layne, the most recent of those two third-round draft picks, who spent his rookie season watching from the sidelines, at least when the Steelers were on defense. He did emerge as a special teams player during the second half of the season, to the point where he was dressing over Burns, but his goal for 2020 would be to earn some playing time on defense.
Still, that won’t be an easy assignment because the Steelers—yes, the Steelers—remain heavy at the top of the cornerback depth chart. They have a trio of quality starters in Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton in the slot, with Cameron Sutton having shown particularly last season that he is ready to step in as the top backup.
But he will be heading into this season looking to compete with Sutton to lay claim to the top backup role, at least for the outside. Sutton is better equipped to play inside, so he would be the direct backup to Hilton as the slot cornerback, but Layne can push to be the one to step in if there is an injury outside.
He could also fight to earn a dime role, since Nelson has the ability to kick inside. He spent most of his first three seasons in the league playing in the slot, and the Steelers talked about the fact that he had this capability when they signed him last year.
With both Hilton and Sutton being free agents after this season, and Haden on the wrong side of 30, the Steelers would love to know as soon as possible whether or not they have a player in Layne. A truncated offseason isn’t going to do him any favors, but he does have the ability to play.