Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 have seen and are seeing over the course of the season and into 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. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: CB Justin Layne
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: Given the Steelers’ moves at cornerback and the distinct possibility of their addressing the position in the 2022 NFL Draft, Justin Layne is once again facing pressure to retain his roster spot entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Notions of what constitutes a ‘bust’ run the gamut of thresholds, pretty much varying from individual to individual. Regardless of what one considers Justin Layne, however, the inevitable conclusion is that he has not developed into the player the Steelers and many others thought he could be as a 2019 third-round draft pick out of Michigan State.
Through three seasons of professional football, Layne has only sparingly received opportunities to play the cornerback position, typically coming only as a result of injury. He has largely carved out a niche for himself as a special teamer, though has not made himself irreplaceable.
Indeed, if there were a choice that needed to be made between Layne and 2020 college free agent James Pierre, it would be made easily enough, and not in the favor of pedigree. Pierre sailed past Layne on the depth chart last year, but had already established himself as a special-teamer the year before.
Now with Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace locked in at the top of the depth chart heading into the draft, and with Pierre and Arthur Maulet as depth, Layne is potentially clinging to a sixth and final roster spot at the position.
Given the distinct possibility that the Steelers decide to address the cornerback position in the 2022 NFL Draft—perhaps even quite early—Layne’s position is even more precarious. He could be facing his last chance, and looking at a spot on the Birmingham Stallion with Brian Allen a year from now.
Now, it is true that the team knew when they drafted him that he was raw. He was a wide receiver before getting to college, converting during his first season, and he declared for the draft as a true junior. He’s been playing cornerback in earnest for about five and a half years. But realistically, will the light suddenly ‘turn on’ in training camp in 2022? Probably not, but we might as well hope for the best. If he earns a roster spot by improving, then the team is better off for it. I certainly would never root against a player changing a negative narrative about himself (about his play, at least).