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: Up
Reasoning: Entering what could potentially be a make-or-break season, third-year cornerback Justin Layne got himself a bit of a break this offseason by having the depth chart cleared out in front of him, as Steven Nelson was a salary cap casualty, and Mike Hilton left in free agency.
If Justin Layne plays his cards right, he could stand to play some 6-700 snaps in 2021 as a starting cornerback, the nickel defender who likely would play on the outside in sub-packages, with Cameron Sutton moving into the slot.
That is because two of the Steelers’ top three cornerbacks from the previous two seasons are no longer here. While the team retained Sutton, slot cornerback Mike Hilton found a more lucrative opportunity in free agency, while the organization decided that Steven Nelson’s cap space was more valuable than his play.
That leaves Layne, a third-round pick in 2019, with a golden opportunity to compete for more playing time—perhaps much more. But it will be a competition. In fact, 2020 rookie undrafted free agent James Pierre played some snaps ahead of him at the end of the year. And the team also added a veteran cornerback in Trevor Williams at the end of last season.
The truth is, there is a more than realistic scenario where if Layne doesn’t take a meaningful step forward this offseason, he may even wind up not making the roster. It seems inevitable that the Steelers will add at least one or two more cornerbacks before the season starts, including in the draft.
There are those who have written him off already, particularly based on his limited number of snaps last season, but he still has an opportunity to turn himself onto the right path. If he has success over the next year, he could set himself up for a starting job in 2022.