7 Steelers who need to start against the Browns in Week 17
Justin Layne and James Pierre
Out of all of the young players that should see snaps this week, both Justin Layne and James Pierre are at the top of the list of reserves that need to start. Starting with Layne, his sophomore season has been a disappointment as a whole. While he has continued his solid special teams, the Steelers have opted to play other defensive backs over him when given the opportunity. Part of this is due to the 129.2 quarterback rating he is giving up when being targeted.
With the Steelers likely limiting the work their veteran corners do this week, Layne has the opportunity to show the team that he is still developing as a defender. While the odds of him suddenly being a shutdown corner isn’t likely, he could show enough to give the team the confidence to start him next year if cuts have to be made for cap purposes. At the very least, he could cement himself as the top outside backup amongst the corners.
Even more intriguing at this point is Pierre, as the former undrafted free agent made the team his rookie year despite there not being a preseason for him to show his skills. That speaks to just how great he must have been playing in practice, as his ability to make the final roster in such a weird year is commendable. That said, he has only been a gunner on special teams so far, as he has logged a total of nine defensive snaps over the season. That said, his play on special teams has been strong, and he is deserving of a shot on defense.
Given the lax nature of this game, it would make a lot of sense to give Pierre the nod as the other outside corner. While he will likely struggle as an undrafted rookie, he needs the opportunity to flash as a defender. This is a great opportunity for the Steelers to see what they have in Pierre. At the very worst, he ends the game confirming he is nothing more than a special team ace right now. If he flashes though, he could insert his name in the conversation as a potential starter next year if a spot on the outside opens up.
With the Steelers having secured the division this past week, the team is in a great spot to allow some of their developmental prospects the opportunity to play. While each will likely have their struggles in a more full-time role in this game, each of the players above deserve the chance to show what they can do as a starter. A good performance from any of them could have major repercussions after this season concludes.