If the Pittsburgh Steelers selection of Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson had some fans questioning the move on Friday night, the choice of Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne at the end of the third-round should have been cause for celebration.
In contrast to the pick of Johnson, most experts had Layne going much earlier on day two, with the selection seen as something of a steal among many in the draft community at pick No.83. And reading the scouting reports written about him during the offseason, it would appear there is a lot to like about the Steelers latest addition on defense.
“Ascending bump-and-run cornerback with rare size and length who leans on good movement skills to overcome his average long speed. Although he plays with good route recognition, he’ll allow some separation from breaks, but he’s quick to hug-up and close the restrict the throwing window. He’s not a burner, but he uses his size ball skills to make plays on the football down the field. Layne’s traits could make him a fit in a variety of coverages, but he needs consistent toughness to help support against the run.”
Incredible length for the position with 33” arms on a big 6’2” frame.
A converted receiver who is able to recognize body movements and routes quicker than most.
Has the length and speed to be dangerous in both man and zone schemes.
Is dangerous at the line of scrimmage with his length and has the ability to turn and run with receivers.
Moves well through receivers’ routes and uses appropriate hand timing to disrupt receptions.
Lacks elite-level long speed for the position despite running a 4.50-second 40-yard dash.
Limited interception production (three in three seasons) will have scouts questioning ball skills.
Struggles to change direction with shifty receivers.
Provides little support versus the run game even though he has tremendous size.
Justin Layne is a Cover 3 coordinator’s dream. His combination of length and route recognition allows him to make plays most corners cannot. While he hasn’t reeled in many interceptions, he has excelled at pass breakups (with 15 last season). In the right scheme, Layne could be the steal of this draft.
GRADE: 6.90 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE IMPACT) PRO COMPARISON: Nnamdi Asomugha
“Justin Layne is a developmental cornerback who has the necessary physical skills to become a high end starting cornerback at the NFL level. Layne has terrific ball skills, prototypical length and good long speed. Where he’s lacking? Layne is pretty rough around the edges in his transitions and struggles when detached from receivers to transition and gave up a lot of soft receptions as a result. With greater footwork, Layne has excellent potential.”
“A highly-regarded wide receiver recruit, Layne transitioned to cornerback as a freshman and developed into a shutdown defender in college. Given his length, play strength, ball skills and route anticipation ability, Layne is best used in a press/man role at the next level. He has the physical upside to excel in zone but he must develop in terms of spacing and route awareness. A physical player, Layne is disruptive early in routes and at the catch point while playing with no hesitation when needed to play through contact and make a tackle. Layne should be an eventual starter with a fairly high ceiling as he continues to learn the nuances of the cornerback position.”
You can also read an interview with the former Michigan State product done by Justin Melo of DraftWire here that should provide some more insight into the young cornerback.
With the 83rd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Steelers select Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019
Justin Layne posted a Great #RAS with Good size, Okay speed, Great explosiveness, Good agility at the CB position. pic.twitter.com/SxEnmKYi1X
Watching his highlight videos shows a player who appears to have many of the skills that could translate well to the professional level. Warning some of the tracks that accompany these videos contains profanity and most of music is terrible: