Steelers CB Justin Layne has quietly stepped up his game this preseason

Justin Layne #31 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Justin Layne #31 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

Justin Layne has been a disappointment so far, but here’s how the third-year Steelers cornerback has quietly stepped up his game in the preseason. 

Justin Layne is a player that many NFL Draft analysts were high on entering the league back in 2019. Some even had him slated as a late-first to mid-second round prospect, so when the Steelers were able to land him with the second of their third-round picks in the draft, it was considered a tremendous value pick.

Unfortunately, Layne did not live up to lofty expectations in his first two seasons. Though opportunities were scarce, Layne looked lost when he finally got on the field and was eventually surpassed on the depth chart by James Pierre by the end of the 2020 season.

Now entering year three, many fans seem to have already given up on any chance of Layne becoming the player they were hoping for. But not so fast. After stringing together two solid preseason performances in a row, perhaps Layne could surprise us all.

Steelers CB Justin Layne has flown under the radar

Rivaling cornerback, James Pierre, had a very good summer, and I thought he was one of the most impressive players at training camp this year. However, many don’t realize that these roles have somewhat reversed in preseason action.

Though Pierre has still been drawing more media attention, it’s been Layne who has outperformed him over the past two contests, according to Pro Football Focus – earning significantly higher overall grades in each of his last two games.

In addition, Justin Layne managed to earn an interception and two pass breakups in limited play over his last two games against the Eagles and Lions, via ESPN. Is it time to start taking him more seriously?

We all know that Layne has talent. He tested as roughly a 90th percentile athlete coming out of Michigan State, according to his Relative Athletic Score. Combine that with a 6’2”, 192-pound frame, 33” arms, and an absurd 80 1/8” wingspan and you have an ideal build for a boundary cornerback.

It’s also important to consider that, despite entering his third NFL season, Layne turned just 23 years old this offseason – making him over a year younger than Pierre. He’s even younger than 2021 undrafted rookie, Mark Gilbert.

While youth and upside aren’t everything, it’s encouraging to note that Justin Layne is finally heading in the right direction and has improved his play over the past two weeks (albeit in the preseason against primarily backup players).

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Layne will get the chance to prove himself one more time before the regular season as he takes the field against the Carolina Panthers tonight. With an impressive outing, he could certainly make a case to see the field in sub-packages for the Steelers this year. Let’s hope he continues to improve.