Now that the 2020 regular season 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 are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
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. 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 season as we move forward.
Player: CB Justin Layne
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Over the course of the past several weeks in Mike Hilton’s absence, the Steelers’ defensive coaches have shown confidence in second-year cornerback Justin Layne, and trust in his ability to log snaps on defense.
This is more of a longitudinal evaluation rather than a specific comment upon a high level of play. Over the course of the past four games, since Mike Hilton’s shoulder injury, he has logged 39 snaps on defense as the Steelers’ dime back, including 36 snaps over the past three games, averaging 12 snaps per game.
That’s not to say that he has been incredibly effective or has been playing at a very high level, but he has been solid and stable, which is why the coaching staff has continued to feel comfortable in putting him out on the field rather than exploring other alternatives, which could even include James Pierre, or perhaps more likely, Sean Davis (the Steelers have historically preferred three-safety dime packages).
A third-round pick in last year’s draft, Layne was understood to be physically gifted and with talent, but also raw, having converted to the defensive side of the ball only when he reached college—and he declared as a true junior on top of that.
While he did not see defensive playing time as a rookie in 2019, he did ultimately earn a regular spot as a gunner on special teams by the end of the year, rooting Artie Burns out of that role. He had continued to be a fixture on multiple units here, having already logged 117 snaps and trending toward nearly 250 special teams snaps on the season.
With Hilton slowly but surely working his way back, Layne’s time to make an impact on defense is limited, and perhaps already over in 2020, as he will fall back to fifth-string behind Cameron Sutton at that point. But this playing time in the past month has nevertheless been a good sign of where the coaching staff feels he is and their comfort level in his ability to contribute.