Michigan State CB Justin Layne goes to Steelers in 3rd round
Five minutes after being drafted, Justin Layne already was switching allegiances.
Layne, a Cleveland native and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second pick of the third round Friday night, was redecorating when he talked with reporters on a conference call moments after being selected.
“We’re taking all the Browns stuff down right now,” Layne said. “We’re ready. I’m ready.”
Layne was one of six cornerbacks to make a top-30 visit to the Steelers in the weeks leading up to the draft.
In Lane, the Steelers got a tall defensive back with the No. 83 overall pick. Layne is 6-foot-2 and a converted wide receiver.
It was the team’s second pick in the third round — they took Toledo receiver Diontae Johnson with the No. 66 overall pick.
Layne is two inches taller than Artie Burns and has three inches on Joe Haden and Steven Nelson.
“You look at some of the receivers being draft, and they are big men,” secondary coach Teryl Austin said. “You have to be able to compete and win some 50-50 balls. You can’t lose all them balls because you are too small. Size, speed and ball skills are important because you’ve got to be able to turn the ball over in this league.”
Layne was a star wide receiver at Benedictine High School in Cleveland, but he was converted to cornerback in his freshman season at Michigan State. He started five games as a freshman and moved into the lineup full time for his final two seasons. He had two interceptions and 23 passes defensed over his sophomore and junior seasons.
“I feel like I have the ability to make plays and get my hands on the ball,” Layne said.
With former first-round pick Burns losing his starting job last season, the Steelers entered the offseason looking to upgrade the secondary. They signed Nelson in free agency and committed to getting a corner or safety early in the draft.
“You can’t have enough corners on your team,” Austin said. “With the amount of running they do, they help you on special teams, you get nicked, you have to have people to get in there because they play four, five receiver packages these days. Those guys are important, and I don’t think you can ever have enough corners on your roster.”
Austin said Layne has the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary.
“Right now, I see him more as an outside guy to start with,” Austin said. “In terms of learning and getting him ready, that’s what I’ll do.”
Seven cornerbacks were selected in the second round Friday, and an eighth went in the third round before it was the Steelers’ turn to pick.
“I knew they would come get me somehow,” Layne said.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .