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If wingspan makes a good DB, Steelers’ Justin Layne could be very special

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Some NFL Draft experts love to point to wingspan as a good sign for defensive backs. In this case, you won’t find anyone better than Justin Layne.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to NFL Draft preparation, experts love to point to specific skills/tangibles to help relate that into success in the NFL. For instance, when evaluating quarterbacks everyone loves to point to not just height, but hand size as a trait which can lead to success, or failure. With pass rushers hip flexibility and ‘bend’ is a trait which shows up in the three-cone drill and can show a direct correlation for success on the gridiron.

When it comes to defensive backs, not only is height something which many view as critical, but arm length, or wingspan, is also important so defenders can get their hands and arms involved to break up passes.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers buy into this theory, they certainly got their man with 3rd round pick Just Layne out of Michigan State. Layne’s 80 1/8” wingspan is greater than some of the best defenders, including front seven players, in the entire 2019 NFL Draft.

Throw in his 6’2” frame and 4.5 second 40-yard dash time and you might just have yourself a prototypical outside cornerback in today’s NFL.

Check out what else was said about him in his NFL Draft profile which could give Steelers fans an idea of what to expect from Layne as he tries to make his mark on the Steelers’ secondary:

Overview: 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 to 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.

Strengths

  • Above-average height and arm length
  • Aware and awake with plus football IQ
  • Former receiver with above-average route feel
  • Quick to digest and adjust to route combinations
  • Manages distance from target from Cover-3 side-shuffle
  • Changes punch routine to catch receivers off-guard
  • Adequate hip flip from press
  • Fluid sink and redirect to hug the top of comebacks
  • Decisive, quick plant-and-drive from pedal
  • Posted 11 pass breakups over final five games
  • Calm with back to the ball
  • Turns to locate with good timing and makes the play

Weaknesses

  • Play demeanor appears lukewarm on tape
  • Needs to add play strength
  • Could struggle with physicality at top of the route
  • Average matching quick receivers from man
  • Feet get away causing occasional imbalance in transitions
  • Below-average make-up gear when he gets behind
  • Somewhat conservative routes to throws
  • Settles for pass breakups of interception tries
  • Stays wired on blocks and run support
  • Didn’t look invested in run support at times

In regards to potential, Layne has it busting at the seams, but the question everyone wants to know is how long he will be able to turn that potential into production. For the sake of the Steelers’ secondary, the hope is sooner than later.