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: Down
Reasoning: Without a traditional preseason and training camp schedule, it will be virtually impossible for the raw second-year player to have a real shot at working his way up the depth chart and into any kind of defensive playing time.
The good news for Justin Layne is that he is the fifth cornerback on the depth chart. The bad news for Justin Layne is…the same thing. He is the fifth cornerback on the depth chart. Because ahead of him are Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. All of them are coming off of either their best season, or their best season with the Steelers.
All of them have been in the NFL for at least three years and have started games. Layne edged out Artie Burns at the end of last season for the right to play on special teams. He will continue to play on special teams this year, but the odds of him doing anything else have steadily declined as it has become more and more obvious that there will be scarce growth opportunities for young players.
Originally recruited to Michigan State as a wide receiver—he has told reporters in interviews that he never played on the defensive side of the ball at all—he moved to cornerback in the middle of his true freshman season, and he declared for the draft as a true junior.
In other words, he hasn’t been playing cornerback, or defense, for very long. He looked very raw, especially early on, during his preseason play. While he made headway on special teams, there is always hope for second-year players to grow over the offseason.
But what opportunities has he had to grow this offseason? The coaching staff has literally not seen him in person, perhaps at all this year, or if so, then since March. No OTAs. No minicamp. Training camp will be limited. The jury’s still out over whether or not there will even be a single preseason game.
Unfortunately, this is shaping up to be somewhat of a wasted second season for Layne in terms of the opportunities for him to advance his craft, but this is a situation many young players throughout the NFL are facing. At least in his case, his roster spot feels rather safe.