Justin Layne watched as he nearly slid out of Day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft, but the former Michigan State football star is ready to prove 31 teams wrong.
Everyone ready to buy their Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys? I know, after the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell had a falling out, many Michigan State football fans lost interest in the organization, but it’s time to pick that back up.
Justin Layne was selected in the third round by the Steelers which was about a round and a half too late, especially considering Mel Kiper had him as a potential late-first round selection and his third-best cornerback prospect in the draft class.
But Layne watched as cornerback after cornerback heard their names called in the first, second and third rounds until he was selected in the mid-third.
The Steelers are getting a lengthy corner who can lock receivers down and who will learn in one of the better organizations in the NFL.
Was he worried about his draft placement? He tweeted at someone who said that he needs to use this draft slide as fuel and he responded with “not tripping”. He stayed calm, cool and collected, but you know this adds a chip to his shoulder.
Growing up a Browns fan, he watched his favorite team as a kid trade up on Day 2 to select a cornerback — Greedy Williams out of LSU. He’s already said that his family has thrown away their Browns stuff in order to pick up Steelers apparel — a big rival of the Browns. He has the perfect mindset and this has made him hungrier to prove himself.
I think it’s fair to say that the reviews on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class are mixed. There are definitely those who believe the team gave up too much—a 2019 second-round pick and their third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft—to trade up 10 spots in the first round for inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Their next pick did not come until the start of the third round, and when it did, there was many a groan when the name rolling across the screen was Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who many amateur online scouts felt was more of a late-round pick.
Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, however, expressed high confidence that there is no way Johnson would have made it to the team’s second third-round pick as Bruce Arians, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cursed him out after Pittsburgh took him, because he was going to be their selection a few picks later.
That’s generally not how the Steelers approach their draft board, however. What they concern themselves with is if they are drafting players where they are comfortable drafting them based on their own evaluations. And according to Gerry Dulac, they were probably very pleased with where they got Johnson, because they reportedly had a first-round grade on him.
Even though he was a pre-draft visitor, Johnson is probably not a player that a ton of people did a heavy amount of scouting on, even with the reality that he bore some certain similarities to one Antonio Brown when he came out of a MAC school as an underclassman in 2010.
Dulac seemingly casually dropped this little nugget about the Steelers having a first-round grade on Johnson, but it’s interesting and worth noting that only two wide receivers were even taken in the first round this year, those being Marquise Brown 25th overall and then N’Keal Harry with the 32nd pick. There was a run at wide receiver at the end of the second round, and Johnson was essentially a continuation of that at the top of the first with the Steelers’ first selection since 10th overall.
If the team did indeed have a first-round grade on Johnson, then it marks the second year in which they were able to acquire a player in the third round that they believed has first-round talent. In 2018, they traded up a few spots toward the front half of the third round to select quarterback Mason Rudolph, whom they graded in the same tier as the five quarterbacks who were taken in the first round.
If the Toledo product actually plays up to a first-round talent, that will be a huge break for the Steelers, who got meager compensation in return for Antonio Brown in trade. Yet it would be fitting to get a star from a pick acquired from his trade. After all, they got Brown from a pick they acquired indirectly from trading Santonio Holmes—who of course announced the Johnson selection on Friday, because how else can this offseason have gone?
The Steelers saw a player they liked in Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, so made a rare, aggressive move to get him in the first round of the NFL draft.
Pittsburgh moved up 10 spots in the first round to select Bush with the 10th overall pick on Thursday night.
“If a player is high on your board and he gets within reach, then you make the necessary moves to go up and get him,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said.
Pittsburgh swapped first round picks with the Broncos, sending the 20th overall selection to Denver along with a second round pick (No. 52 overall) and a 2020 third rounder.
The Steelers hope Bush can be a capable replacement for Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ 2014 first-round pick who will sit out a second straight season while recovering from spinal surgery in December 2017.
Bush is well-aware of Shazier’s story, but he’s ready to carve out his own role.
“I wish all the best for Ryan Shazier in his recovery and I hope to see him soon,” Bush said. “I’m not trying to compare myself to Ryan Shazier or anybody else. I want to come in and be Devin Bush.”
Bush, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound junior, played in 39 games, making 32 starts during a three-year career at Michigan. A consensus All-American in 2018, Bush registered 194 tackles, including 20 for loss, 10 sacks, one interception and 17 passes defensed at Michigan.
Bush, whose father Devin Bush Sr. won a Super Bowl in St. Louis, was named the Big Ten defensive player of the year and Big Ten linebacker of the year in 2018. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said the organization scouted Bush extensively.
“He’s an all-situations linebacker, but we’re equally as fired up about his intangibles,” Tomlin said. “He comes from a football family and he’s a football guy. We interviewed a lot of Michigan players and it was unanimous in terms of who their unquestioned leader was.”
Pittsburgh started 7-2-1, but a late collapse forced the Steelers to finish 9-6-1 and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Steelers hope Bush can serve as a three-down linebacker who can rush sideline-to-sideline and also make plays in the middle of the field to bolster a defense that failed to create takeaways or land critical stops down the stretch.
Bush feels he can help remedy the problem.
“I think I’m a good fit because I love to win,” Bush said.
While Bush can immediately help the defense with his skillset, Colbert said he might not be thrust into a starting role after the team signed former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Mark Barron to a two-year free agent contract in March.
“He will help us at some point, but it will be when he’s ready and not necessarily forcing him into a situation,” Colbert said. “He was a great player on a really good college defense, but it’s still the NFL. I think Devin will push the process, but it will be up to the coaches to decide when he’s ready.”
The Steelers still have eight picks remaining, including two third-rounders. Their next pick, No. 66 overall, is the third-rounder acquired for star receiver Antonio Brown — the only player in NFL history with six straight 100-catch seasons — who was traded away to the Oakland Raiders.
Colbert said the trade for Brown and the future compensation the team may receive after losing All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell allowed the Steelers to trade up and draft Bush. Bell sat out last season after declining to sign his $14.5 million franchise tender.
“We said under no circumstances would we go into (Friday) with less than two picks,” Colbert said. “We would look into trading up, but that was our criteria because there are good picks left. And we believe we’ll have some type of compensatory pick in 2020, so it gives us a little more justification for trading away a future pick. Had we not had 10 picks, we probably wouldn’t have been able to make this trade.”
Bush is Pittsburgh’s first top 10 pick since 2000, when the Steelers selected Plaxico Burress at No. 8 overall. He’s Pittsburgh’s first top 10 pick on defense since Hall of Famer Rod Woodson in 1987. Pittsburgh has used its first round pick on a defensive player each of the last seven years.
The last time the Steelers moved up in the first round was 2006, when they picked wide receiver Santonio Holmes. In 2003, Pittsburgh moved the Steelers from 27th overall to No. 16 to select four-time All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
“Mean” Joe Greene, the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in 1969, announced Bush’s selection. Moments earlier, Tomlin was on the call, telling Bush that the Steelers were about to trade up and pick the Michigan standout.
“He was just like ‘Are you ready to be a Steeler?'” Bush said. “And I was like, ‘Hell yeah coach, I’m ready.’ They were super excited and told me how much they felt they needed me. It was a great moment.”