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 James Pierre
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Rookie college free agent cornerback James Pierre got meaningful playing time on defense for the first time in his career on Sunday in the Steelers’ playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, logging eight snaps as the dime back over Justin Layne with Joe Haden out, and made a play.
It might not be much, but it’s not nothing. 6’2” cornerback James Pierre out of Florida Atlantic, who made the 53-man roster right out of training camp in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic as the Steelers’ number six cornerback, not only stuck on the roster all year, but even evidently made headway as the season progressed.
Pittsburgh entered the year with Cameron Sutton as their number four cornerback, and of course he never relinquished that role, but when one of their top three were out, he would have to move up in the pecking order, and that would bring second-year former third-round pick Justin Layne into the picture.
Layne was bypassed on Sunday, however, playing zero defensive snaps, while Pierre played eight. The latter had seen time defensively in a few games earlier in the year, but they were either in blowouts or in the finale, which held no significance for their playoff chances.
Obviously, this is not good news for Layne as he heads into his third season—especially for the Steelers, with Sutton and Mike Hilton entering free agency—but it is good news for Pierre, with that playing time potentially indicating that Pittsburgh views him as somebody who could have a defensive role in the future, beyond the 224 snaps he played on special teams.
The rookie even made a play down the field on a third-down pass in the first half, forcing an incompletion. He was actually one of the Steelers’ highest-graded defenders for the game by Pro Football Focus, albeit obviously on a very limited body of work.