Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, 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 offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
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: Even
Reasoning: While known to be a project coming into the league, former third-round pick Justin Layne did not demonstrate as much progress as could be hoped in his second season last year, but there was some there in an abbreviated timeframe.
It’s always going to be difficult for a young player coming into the league while still somewhat in a transitional phase of moving from one position to another, especially when that transition is moving from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive, or vice versa.
That was the case for Justin Layne, a physically gifted cornerback out of Michigan State whom the Steelers drafted in the third round in 2019. He spent his rookie season first on the bench, then developing a role on special teams, with the hope that he could ascend the hierarchy a bit in 2020.
He did—sort of. In large part due to injuries, Layne did see defensive playing time during the last season as a dime defender, playing on the outside when either Joe Haden or Steven Nelson or Mike Hilton was unavailable. The problem is that when he was on the field, he had his moments that showed he might not have shown significant growth.
It’s hard to gauge that when there are no Spring workouts, no preseason games, and an abbreviated training camp, as was the case this past season due to the pandemic, so in that regard, it was a bit of a trial by fire.
The most damning moment came in the Steelers’ postseason game. With Haden out due to Covid-19, when the team moved to a dime defense, they actually put James Pierre, a rookie college free agent, on the field ahead of him.
That doesn’t sound like it would bode well for his future, but he is still young—he just turned 23 years old a couple weeks ago—he’s still tall, he’s still talented. It’s not uncommon for players to make a jump in their development in their third season, and that’s what Pittsburgh will be hoping for in 2021, especially with the likely loss of at least one of Hilton or Cameron Sutton.