Now that training camp 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 reasoning. 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: The third-year cornerback has had an up-and-down offseason, both in preseason games and on the practice field, but the impression is that he has done enough to continue to retain his spot on the 53-man roster.
Any high draft pick who doesn’t show a lot of growth through two seasons is going to get his share of criticism from the fanbase, and Justin Layne, a third-round pick in 2019, has certainly not been immune to that. To make matters worse, he did get arrested earlier this offseason.
But it seems as though he is doing just enough to keep his spot. He does have a forced fumble and an interception during the preseason, and he had some takeaways in practice as well. Turning the ball over back to your offense is always a good way to get noticed.
Even though he has been leapfrogged by 2020 college free agent James Pierre, who seems to be positioned to be the Steelers’ nickel starter this year, Layne could end up being the next man up if either Pierre or Joe Haden were to be injured (though not Cameron Sutton, because neither Pierre or Haden, nor Layne, play inside).
It will be interesting to see how many snaps Layne gets to play this year. He ended up logging 117 defensive snaps for the Steelers in 2020, plus another 261 snaps while playing on special teams, having established himself as a core member of that group.
It might not be popular, but Steelers coaches have been clearly signaling all offseason that they still very much consider Layne a young player whose arrow is pointing up. Not only did he convert to cornerback once he got to college after never playing defense before, he was a true junior when drafted, and he didn’t have a full offseason last year. And there aren’t many other options, anyway, for depth.