When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected cornerback Justin Layne out of Michigan State with the 83rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, hopes were high for the young, developmental cornerback who had great length and ball skills for the position.
Three seasons later, Layne has appeared in 43 games and recorded just 41 career tackles and one fumble recovery, playing mostly on special teams with 599 career snaps under Danny Smith’s guidance.
Though the Steelers have been able to find help at cornerback elsewhere with the trade for Ahkello Witherspoon, the signing in free agency of Levi Wallace and the continued development of Cameron Sutton, Layne holds the difficult distinction of being the Steelers’ worst draft pick of the last five years, according to Bleacher Report.
“Despite a decent collegiate resume at Michigan State—24 pass breakups and three interceptions through three terms—and the prototypical size (6’2″, 192 lbs) to play cornerback at the pro level, Justin Layne hasn’t moved up the ranks for a significant role with the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton writes. “In 2019, the Steelers signed cornerback Steven Nelson to pair with Joe Haden on the perimeter, which meant Layne didn’t have a legitimate chance to start during his rookie season.
“After the 2020 campaign, Pittsburgh released Nelson, but that move didn’t open the door for Layne. Layne appeared in all 17 games in 2021 but only saw 28 defensive snaps. Instead, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet and Ahkello Witherspoon took advantage of more opportunities on the boundary.
“Pierre went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2020, and the Steelers added Maulet and Witherspoon (via trade with the Seattle Seahawks) to the roster last offseason, which raises concerns about Layne’s standing with the team. In free agency, the Steelers signed Levi Wallace, a probable starter, and retained Witherspoon as well as Maulet. They also have Cameron Sutton, who can line up on the outside or in the slot. Going into a contract year, Layne could be the No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart.
Layne has certainly been a bit of a disappointment, but there could be arguments made for other draft picks in the last five years, including running back Anthony McFarland in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, or Joshua Dobbs in the fifth round in the 2017 NFL Draft, which caused the Steelers to begrudgingly pass on George Kittle that year.
Of course, the overall lack of production and the draft slot as a top 100 selection makes Layne the Steelers’ selection for worst draft pick in the last five years, eventually leading to present day where the Steelers find themselves needing to address cornerback depth once again in the NFL Draft.