Veteran DB Highlighted As Steelers’ Player On Roster Bubble By ESPN

Through three seasons in the black and gold, former 2019 third-round draft pick Justin Layne has struggled to truly carve out a role with the Pittsburgh Steelers defensively.

While he’s been a relatively solid commodity as a gunner on special teams, Layne just hasn’t quite made the impact on the defensive side of the football the Steelers were hoping for coming out of Michigan State, where he switched from receiver to cornerback and flourished with the Spartans.

Now, ahead of his final year under contract with the Steelers, Layne finds himself on the roster bubble, which could lead to a surprise training camp cut, according to a prediction from ESPN Steelers’ beat writer Brooke Pryor Wednesday morning. 

In an exercise identifying one veteran on the roster bubble for all 32 teams, Pryor selected Layne as the Steelers’ on-the-bubble veteran, and for good reason.

Last season, Layne was passed on the cornerback depth chart by undrafted free agent James Pierre. The Steelers then showed very little faith in Pierre or Layne this offseason following the departure of Joe Haden, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon and adding veteran Levi Wallace from the Buffalo Bills.

Though there isn’t much competition for the time being behind Layne with UDFAs Chris Steele and Carlins Platel, and second-year practice squad member Linden Stephens, Layne could find himself on the outs before the start of the season, according to Pryor.

“Since being selected in the third round of the 2019 draft, Layne has been primarily a special teamer. Despite injuries at cornerback last season, Layne played 28 defensive snaps, and James Pierre surpassed him on the depth chart,” Pryor writes, highlighting Layne as her roster bubble selection for the black and gold. “The Steelers didn’t pick up a corner in the draft, which works in Layne’s favor, but unless he shows a big jump in training camp, Layne is firmly on the bubble entering the final year of his rookie deal.”

While it’s true that the Steelers didn’t address the position in the 2022 NFL Draft, which certainly helps Layne’s battle to make the roster, there just isn’t a true path for him to make the 53-man roster defensively. Once again, he’ll have to show special teams coordinator Danny Smith that he’s worth keeping around again as a gunner, which will be no small task with a guy like wide receiver Miles Boykin now in the fold.

Layne is still just 24 years old, but having played just 145 career defensive snaps through three seasons compared to 599 special teams snaps, it’s becoming clearer and clearer just what Layne’s future outlook is at this time with the Steelers. While being strong on special teams certainly is valuable, the Steelers very clearly aren’t comfortable with him on the field defensively.

That’s a tough look for a young defensive back, one that could have him on the outside looking in late in training camp.

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