In what should have been a breakout season for third-year receiver Justin Layne, things did not go as planned.
This past season, Layne played a total of 28 defensive snaps while playing the majority of his snaps on special teams. Meanwhile, cornerbacks such as James Pierre and Akhello Witherspoon gained meaningful playing time over the third-round pick out of Michigan State.
Even with the possibility of veteran Joe Haden leaving for free agency, there is no reassurance that Layne will have an expanded role in the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense in 2022. When given the opportunity this past season, Layne registered a completion percentage allowed of 75.0% and a passer rating of 82.3 when targeted. Despite these being major improvements from the 2020 season, he still received minimal snaps on defense.
In many ways, Layne's path is similar to that of former Steelers cornerback Curtis Brown, a 2011 third-round pick whose play on the field resulted in minimal playing time on defense and much of his time on special teams. As he enters his fourth season, Layne likely knows that his chances of gaining a full-time spot on defense are wearing thin.
This upcoming season presents the best opportunity for Layne to live up to the potential he showed during his junior year at Michigan State. Hopefully, this is the year he can take that next step forward and avoid becoming an afterthought.